The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Revival at Troy
Early in the autumn of this year 1826, I accepted an invitation from Rev. Beman and his Session to labor with them in Troy for the revival of religion. At Troy I spent the fall and winter and the revival was powerful in that city. I have already said that Mr. Nettleton had been sent by Dr. Beecher, as I understood, to Albany to make a stand against the revivals that were spreading in central New York. I had the greatest confidence in Mr. Nettleton, though I had never seen him. I had the greatest desire to see him, so much so that I had frequently dreamed of visiting him and obtaining from him information in regard to the best means in regard to promoting a revival. I wanted exceedingly to see him, and felt like sitting at his feet, almost as I would at the feet of an apostle, from what I had heard of his success in promoting revivals. At that time my confidence in him was so great that I think he could have led me almost or quite at his discretion. Soon after my arrival at Troy I went down to Albany to see him.
He was the guest of a family with which I was acquainted. I spent part of an afternoon with him, and conversed with him in regard to his doctrinal views on some subjects, especially those held by the Dutch and Presbyterian churches in regard to the voluntariness or involuntariness of moral depravity, and kindred topics. I found that he entirely agreed with me, so far as I had opportunity to converse with him, on all the points of theology upon which we conversed. Indeed there had been no complaint by Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton of our teaching in those revivals. They did not complain at all that we did not teach what they regarded as the true Gospel. What they complained of was something that they supposed was highly objectionable in the measures that we used. Our conversation was brief upon every point upon which we touched. I observed that he avoided the subject of promoting revivals. When I told him that I intended to remain in Albany and hear him preach in the evening, he manifested uneasiness and remarked that I must not be seen with him. Hence Judge Cushman who accompanied me from Troy and who was in college with Mr. Nettleton, and myself went to meeting and sat in the gallery. I saw enough to satisfy me that I could expect no advice or instruction from him, and that he was there to take a stand against me. I soon found I was not mistaken.
Since writing the last paragraph, my attention has been called to a statement in the biography of Mr. Nettleton to the effect that he tried in vain to change my views and practices in promoting revivals of religion. I cannot think that Mr. Nettleton ever authorized such a statement for certainly he never attempted to do it. As I have said, at that time he could have molded me at discretion but he said not a word to me about my manner of conducting revivals nor did he ever write a word to me upon the subject. He kept me at arm's length and although as I have said we conversed on some points of theology then much discussed, it was plain that he was unwilling to say anything regarding revivals and would not allow me to accompany him to meeting. This was the only time I saw him until I met him in the convention at New Lebanon. At no time did Mr. Nettleton ever try to correct my views in relation to revivals. After I heard more of his views and practices in promoting revivals I was thankful to God that he never did influence me upon that subject.
As Troy was so near Albany we soon began to feel in Troy the influence of Dr. Beecher's letters over some of the leading members of Dr. Beman's church. This opposition increased, and was doubtless fomented by an outside influence, until finally it was determined to complain of Dr. Beman, and bring his case before the presbytery. They did so, and for several weeks the presbytery sat and examined the charges against him. In the meantime I went on in my labors in the revival. Christian people continued praying mightily to God. I kept up preaching and praying incessantly, and the revival went on with increasing power; Dr. Beman, in the meantime, was under the necessity of giving almost his entire attention to his case which was before the presbytery. When the presbytery had examined the charges and specifications I think they were nearly or quite unanimous in dismissing the whole subject, and justifying the course which he had taken. The charge was not for heresy nor were the specifications for heresy, I believe, but for things conjured up by the enemies of the revival, and by those who were misled by an outside influence.
In the midst of the revival my wife was in a state of health that demanded that I should leave Troy for a week or two and visit her at Whitesboro. Oneida County. While I was gone the Rev. Horatio Foote was invited by Brother Beman to preach. I do not know how often he preached; but this I recollect, that he gave great offence to the already disaffected members of the church. He bore down upon them with the most searching discourses, as I learned. A few of them finally made up their minds to withdraw from the congregation. They did so, and established another congregation; but this was after I had left Troy, I do not recollect how long. This effort to break Dr. Beman down being an utter failure, considerably discomfited the outside movement in opposition to the revival.
A great many very interesting incidents occurred during this revival that I must pass in silence, lest they should appear to reflect too severely on the opposers of the work. To give, however, a hint at the nature of the opposition, as I aim at securing the truth of history, I would remark that among other things that were done, it was found that one of the leaders in the opposition from New England had come to Troy, and was attending the young converts prayer meeting and taking notes of all their expressions, and of whatever occurred in the meeting of these young converts. He did not appear among any of the friends of the revival; nor did he attend any of the meetings, as I could learn except in this stealthy manner. He was evidently a spy, sent in, or came in on his own motive, to spy out of the land. However he did not get hold of anything that was ever published to my knowledge; nor so far as I know was there anything objectionable in those meetings, or in any of our meetings, that he could make public to the injury of the revival. This was a ministerial brother, who had labored considerably with Brother Nettleton. I did not see him nor did the pastor. He manifestly came not as a friend. But I will not attempt to uncover many things that greatly grieved the people of God and the Holy Spirit.
In this revival there was a very earnest Spirit of prayer, as in all the rest that had preceded it. We had a prayer meeting from house to house daily at eleven o'clock. At one of those meetings I recollect that a Mr. Stowe, cashier of a bank in that city, was so pressed by the Spirit of prayer, that when the meeting was dismissed he was unable to rise from his knees, as we had all just been kneeling in prayer. He remained upon his knees, and writhed and groaned in agony. He said, "Pray for--,'' who was president of the bank of which he was cashier. This president was a rich, but an unconverted man. When it was seen that his soul was in travail for that man, the praying people knelt down and wrestled in prayer for his conversion. As soon as the mind of the cashier was so relieved that he could go home, we all retired; and soon after the president of the bank, for whom we prayed, expressed hope in Christ. He had not previous to this, I believe, attended any of the meetings, and it was not known that he was concerned about his salvation. But prayer prevailed, and God soon took his case in hand.
The father of the judge Cushman who was at Troy with me, was at that time living with his son whose guest I was at the time. The old gentleman had been a judge in Vermont. He was a remarkably correct man in his outward life. A venerable man whose house in Vermont had been the home of ministers who visited the place, and he was to all appearance quite satisfied with his amiable and self-righteous life. His wife had told me of her anxiety for his conversion and his son J. P. Cushman had repeatedly expressed fear that his father's self-righteousness would never be overcome and that his natural amiability would ruin his soul. One Sabbath morning the Holy Spirit opened the case to my apprehension and showed me how to reach it. I in a few moments had the whole subject in my mind. I went down stairs and told the old lady and her son J. P. what I was about to do and exhorted them to pray earnestly for the old judge. I followed out the divine showing and I was assured the Word took such powerful hold of him that he spent a sleepless night and in the morning looked haggard, pale and ill. His wife informed me that he had spent a night of anguish--that his self-righteousness was thoroughly annihilated, and that he was almost in despair. His son had told me that he had long prided himself as being better than members of the church. He soon became clearly converted and lived a Christian life to the end. Very many like conversions occurred. Before I left Troy a young lady, a Miss Seward, from New Lebanon in Columbia County, who was an only daughter of one of the deacons or elders of the church in New Lebanon, came to Troy, as I understood, to purchase a dress for a ball which she wished to attend. She had a young lady relative in Troy, who was numbered among the young converts, and was a zealous Christian. She invited Miss Seward to attend with her all the meetings. This aroused the enmity of her heart. She was very restive, but her cousin pleaded with her to stay from day to day and to attend the meetings, until before she left Troy she was thoroughly converted to Christ.
As soon as her eyes were opened and her peace was made with God, she went immediately home, and began her labors for a revival in that place. Religion in New Lebanon was at that time in a very low state. The young people were nearly all unconverted, and the old members of the church were in a very cold and inefficient state. Miss Seward's father had become very formal, and for a long time religious matters had been in a great measure neglected in that place. They had an aged minister, a good man, I trust, but a man that did not seem to know how to perform revival work.
Miss Seward first began at home, and besought her father to give up his "old prayer," as she expressed it, and wake up, and be engaged in religion. As she was a great favorite in the family, and especially with her father, her conversion and conversation greatly affected him. He was very soon aroused, and became quite another sort of a man, and felt deeply that they must have a revival of religion. Sarah, this daughter, also went to the house of her pastor, and began with a daughter of his who was in her sins. She was soon converted; and they two united in prayer for a revival of religion, and went to work from house to house in stirring up the people. In the course of a week or two there was so much interest excited that Sarah came out herself to Troy to beg me to go out there to preach. She was requested to do so by the pastor and by members of the church. I went out and preached. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out, and the revival soon went forward with great power. Very interesting incidents occurred almost every day. Powerful conversions were multiplied and a great and blessed change came over the religious aspect of the whole place. The most cultivated and influential of the inhabitants were converted. Here we had gotten out of the region poisoned by the influence of the opposition raised by Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton; consequently we heard but little of opposition at this place during the revival especially from professors of religion. Everything seemed to go on harmoniously, so far as I know, in the church. They were soon led to feel that they greatly needed a revival, and seemed to be very thankful that God had visited them. Most of the prominent men in the community were converted.
Among these was a Dr. Wright, who was said to be an infidel, and I suppose he was. He was a man very much respected in his profession, and a good deal gifted in conversation. He at first manifested a good deal of hostility to the revival, and declared that the people were mad. But he was made a particular subject of prayer by this Miss Seward, and some others who laid hold upon his case; and who had great faith that notwithstanding his fiery opposition he would soon be converted. On one Sunday morning he came to meeting, and I could see that those who felt for him were bowed down. Their heads were down, and they were in a prayerful state during nearly the whole sermon. It was plain, however, before night that the doctor's opposition began to give way. He listened through the day, and that night he spent in a deeply exercised state of mind. The next morning he called on me, subdued like a little child, and confessed that he had been all wrong; but was very frank in opening his heart and declaring the change that had come over him. It was plain that he was another man, and from that day he took hold of the work and went forward with all his might.
There was also a Mr. Tilden, a merchant of that place, probably the most prominent and wealthy citizen of the town at that time, but a skeptic. I recollect one evening I preached on the subject, "The carnal mind is enmity against God." He was present. He had been a very moral man in the common acceptation of that term, and it had been very difficult to fasten anything upon his mind that would convict him of sin. His wife was a Christian woman, and the Lord had converted his daughter. The state of things in the town and in his family had so far interested him that he would come to meeting and hear what was said. The next day after this sermon on moral depravity, he confessed himself convinced. He told me it came home to him with resistless power. He saw it was all true, and assured me his mind was made up to serve the Lord the rest of his life. I recollect also that the Rev. John T. Avery, a noted evangelist, who has labored in many places for many years, was present at that meeting. His family lived in New Lebanon. He was born and brought up there, and was at this time a lad perhaps fifteen or sixteen years of age. The next morning after that sermon was preached, he came to me one of the dearest little fellows and converts that I have ever seen. He began and told me what had been passing in his mind for several days; and then he added, "I was completely rolled up in the sermon, and it carried me right along. I could understand it. I gave up; I gave all to Christ." This he said in a manner not to be forgotten. But why should I multiply cases. I might spend hours in relating incidents, and the conversion of particular individuals. But I must not enter too much into particulars, or this narrative will be swelled to undue proportions.
But I must mention a little incident connected somewhat with the opposition that had been manifested at Troy. The presbytery of Columbia had a meeting somewhere within its bounds while I was at New Lebanon and, being informed that I was laboring in one of their churches, appointed a committee to visit the place and inquire into the state of things; for they had been led to believe from Troy and other places, and from the opposition of Mr. Nettleton and the letters of Dr. Beecher, that my method of conducting revivals was so very objectionable that it was the duty of the presbytery to inquire into it. They appointed two of their number, as I afterwards understood, to visit the place, and they attempted to do so. As I afterwards learned, though I do not recollect to have heard it at the time, the news reached New Lebanon of this action of that presbytery; and they feared that it might create some division and make some disturbance, if this committee came. Some of the most engaged Christians made this a particular subject of prayer, and for a day or two before the time when they were expected, they prayed much that the Lord would overrule this thing, and not suffer it to divide the church, or introduce any element of discord. They were expected to come and be there on the Sabbath, and attend the meetings. But on the day before, a violent snowstorm set in; and the snow fell so deep that although they started to come they found it impossible to get through, were detained over the Sabbath, and on Monday, or as soon as they could, found their way back to their own congregations. Those brethren were the Rev. Joel Benedict and the Rev. Mr. Chester. Mr. Chester was pastor of the Presbyterian church at Hudson, N.Y.; and the Rev. Mr. Benedict was pastor of the Presbyterian church in Chatham, a village some fifteen or sixteen miles below Albany on the Hudson river.
Soon after I received a letter from Brother Benedict, informing me that the presbytery had appointed him one of a committee to visit me and make some inquiry in regard to my mode of conducting revivals, and inviting me to come and spend a Sabbath with him and preach for him. I did so. As I understood afterwards his report to the presbytery was, that it was unnecessary and useless for them to take any farther action in the case; that the Lord was in the work, and they should take heed lest they be found fighting against God. I heard no more of opposition from that source. I have never doubted that the presbytery of Columbia were honestly alarmed at what they had heard. I have never called in question the propriety of the course which they took, and I ever admired their manifest honesty in receiving testimony from sources that quieted their fears. And so far as I know they thereafter sympathized with the work that was going on. The opposition of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton had had its day.
About this time a proposition was made by somebody, I know not who, to hold a convention or consultation on the subject of conducting revivals. Correspondence was entered into between the western brethren who had been engaged in those revivals, and the eastern brethren who had been opposing them. It was finally agreed to hold the convention on a certain day, I think in July, in New Lebanon where I had been laboring. I had left New Lebanon, and went up and spent a short time at the village of Little Falls, on the Mohawk river, near Utica. Some very interesting incidents occurred there during my short stay; but nothing so marked as naturally to find a place in this narrative, as I was obliged to leave after a very short stay in that place, and return to New Lebanon to attend the convention.
It would seem that the design of this meeting has since been, by many, very much misunderstood. I find there is an impression in the public mind that some complaint had been alleged against myself; and that this meeting was for the trial of myself as complained of before a council. But this was by no means the case. I had nothing to do with getting up the convention. Nor was I any more particularly concerned in its results, than any of the members that attended. The design was to get at the facts of those revivals that had been so much opposed, to consult in reference to them, compare views, and see if we could not come to a better understanding than had existed between the eastern opposers of the revivals and the brethren who had been instrumental in promoting them.
I arrived in New Lebanon a day or two before the convention met. On the day appointed the invited members arrived. They were not men that had been appointed by any ecclesiastical bodies; but they had been invited by the brethren most concerned, east and west, to come together for consultation. None of us were men representing any churches or ecclesiastical bodies whatever. We came together with no authority to act for the church, or any branch of it; but simply, as I have said, to consult, to compare views, to see if anything was wrong in fact; and if so, to agree to correct what was wrong on either side. For myself I supposed that as soon as the brethren came together and exchanged views, and the facts were understood, that the brethren from the east who had opposed the revivals, especially Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, would see their error, and that they had been misled, and that the thing would be disposed of; for I was certain that the things of which they complained in their letters had no foundation in fact. Of the brethren that composed this convention I can remember the following: From the east there were Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, Rev. Dr. Joel Hawes from Hartford, Rev. Dr. Dutton from New Haven, Rev. Dr. Humphrey president of William's College, Rev. Justin Edwards of Andover, and a considerable number of eastern brethren whose names I do not recollect. From the west, that is from central New York where those revivals had been in progress, there were Rev. Dr. Beman of Troy, Dr. Lansing from Auburn. Mr. Aikin of Utica, Rev. Mr. Frost of Whitesboro. Rev. Moses Gillett from Rome, Rev. Mr. Coe from New Hartford, Rev. George W. Gale from Western, Rev. William R. Weeks of Paris Hill, and perhaps some others whose names I do not now recollect, and myself.
We soon discovered that some policy was on foot in organizing the convention on the part of Dr. Beecher. However, we regarded it not. The convention was organized, and I believe the Rev. Dr. Humphrey presided as moderator. There was not the least unkindness of feeling, that I know of, existing in the members of the convention toward each other. It is true that the members from the west regarded with suspicion Mr. Weeks, as I have already intimated, as being the man who was responsible, in a considerable degree, for the misapprehension of the eastern brethren. As soon as the convention was duly organized, and the business before us was stated and understood, the inquiry was raised by the brethren from the west in regard to the source whence Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton had received their information. We had been particularly solicitous to find out who it was that was misleading those brethren, and giving them such a view of the revivals as to make them feel justified in the course they were taking. To make this discovery was a prime idea with us. We wanted to know whence all this mysterious opposition had proceeded. We therefore raised the inquiry at once, and wished to know of those brethren from what source they had received their information as touching those revivals. It was discovered at once that this was an embarrassing question.
I should have observed before, and now wish to be distinctly understood to say, that no opposition had been manifested by any of the ministers from the east who attended the convention, except Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. It was not difficult to see from the outset that Dr. Beecher felt himself committed, and that his reputation was at stake; that as his letters, some of them, had found their way into the public prints, he would be held responsible for them should they not prove to have been called for. It was very plain that he and Mr. Nettleton were both very sensitive. It was also very apparent that Dr. Beecher had secured the attendance of these most influential of the New England ministers in order to sustain himself before the public, and justify himself in the course he had taken. As for Mr. Nettleton, Dr. Beecher had assured him that he would be sustained by New England, and that all the New England church judicatories would speak out in his favor and sustain him.
As I have said, we at the very outset raised the question where those brethren had obtained the information upon which they had based their opposition, and to which they had so fully referred in their letters. When the question was raised Dr. Beecher replied: "We have not come here to be catechized; and our spiritual dignity forbids us to answer any such questions." For myself I thought this was strange, that when such letters had been written and published as had appeared in opposition to those revivals, when such things had been affirmed as facts which were no facts at all, and when such a storm of opposition had been raised throughout the length and breadth of the land, and we had come together to consider the whole question, that we were not allowed to know the source from which their information had been obtained. We had been totally misrepresented, and as a consequence much evil had resulted to the cause of Christ. We wished to know, and thought we had a right to know, the source from which all this misapprehension had arisen. But we found ourselves utterly unable to learn anything about it.
The convention sat several days; but as the facts came out in regard to the revivals, Brother Nettleton became so very nervous that he was unable to attend several of our sessions. He plainly saw that he was losing ground, and that nothing could be ascertained that could justify the course that he was taking. This must have been very visible also to Dr. Beecher. I should have said before, that when the question came up how the facts were to be learned about those revivals, Dr. Beecher took the ground that the testimony of those brethren from the west, who had been engaged in promoting them, should not be received; that as we were in a sense parties to the question, and had been ourselves the objects of his censure, it was like testifying in our own case; that we were therefore not admissible as witnesses, and the facts should not be received from us. But to this the brethren from the east would not listen for a moment. Dr. Humphrey very firmly remarked that we were the best witnesses that could be produced; that we knew what we had done, and what had been done, in those revivals of religion; that we were therefore the most competent and the most credible witnesses: and that our statements were to be received without hesitation by the convention. To this, so far as I know, there was a universal agreement, with the exception of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton.
This decision, however, it was very plain at the time, greatly affected both Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. They saw that if the facts came out from the brethren who had witnessed the revivals, who had been on the ground and knew all about them, they might entirely overrule all the misapprehensions and all the misstatements that had been made and entertained upon the subject. Our meeting was very fraternal throughout, there was no sparring or bitterness manifested; but with the exception of the two brethren whom I have named, Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, the brethren from the east appeared candid and desirous to know the truth, and glad to learn particulars of the western revivals.
There were several points of discussion during the convention, especially one on the propriety of females taking any part in social meetings. Dr. Beecher brought up that objection and argued it at length, insisting upon it that the practice was unscriptural and inadmissible. To this Dr. Beman replied in a very short address, showing conclusively that this practice was familiar to the apostles; and that in the eleventh chapter of Corinthians the apostle called the attention of the church to the fact that Christian females had given a shock to eastern prejudice by their practice of taking part and praying in their religious meetings without their veils. He showed clearly that the apostle did not complain of their taking part in the meeting, but the fact that they did so laying aside their veils; which had given a shock to their prejudices, and given occasion to heathen opposers to complain that Christian women appeared publicly in their assemblies and took part in them, especially prayed in them, without being covered with their veils. He did not attempt to reprove the practice of their praying, but simply admonished them to wear their veils when they did so. To this reply of Dr. Beman no answer was made or attempted. It was manifestly too conclusive to admit of any refutation.
Near the close of the convention Mr. Nettleton came in manifestly very much agitated: and said that he would now give the convention to understand the reasons he had for the course he had taken. He had what he called "a historical letter," in which he professed to give the reasons, and state the facts, upon which he had founded his opposition. I was glad to hear the announcement that he wished to read this letter to the convention. A copy of it had been sent to Mr. Aikin when I was laboring with him in Utica, and Mr. Aikin had given it to me. I had it in my possession at the convention, and should have called it up in due time, had not Mr. Nettleton done so. It appeared in the sequel that Mr. Nettleton had no idea that I had a copy of the letter, or that I had ever seen it. He went on to read the letter. It was a statement, under distinct heads, of the things of which he complained, and which he had been informed were practiced in those revivals, especially by myself. It is evident that the letter was aimed at me particularly. Though perhaps I was seldom mentioned by name in it. Yet the things complained of were so presented that there was no mistaking the design, and that the things complained of were charged to me. The convention listened attentively to the whole letter, which was as long as a sermon. Mr. Nettleton then observed that the convention had before them the facts upon which he had acted, and which he supposed had called for and justified his proceedings.
When he sat down I arose and expressed my satisfaction that that letter had been read; and remarked that I had a copy of it, and should have read it in due time if Mr. Nettleton had not done so. I then affirmed that so far as I was personally concerned, not one of those facts mentioned there and complained of, was true. I had done no such thing. And I added, "All the brethren are here with whom l have performed all these labors, and they know whether I am chargeable with any of these things in any of their congregations. If they know or believe that any of these things are true of me, let them say so now and here, and I will immediately confess them." They all at once affirmed, either by expressly saying so, or by their manifest acquiescence, that they knew of no such thing. Mr. Weeks was present. I have said that we had supposed that some or many of those things communicated to Brother Nettleton had been given him by Mr. Weeks. I expected, therefore, that if anything was said in reply to my explicit denial of all the facts charged in Mr. Nettleton's letter with respect to myself, that it would come from Mr. Weeks. I did not know but he supposed himself in possession of all the facts, which he would there relate. I supposed also that if he had written to Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton affirming those facts, that he would feel called upon then and there to speak out and justify what he had written. But he said not a word. No one there pretended to justify a single sentence in Mr. Nettleton's historical letter, that related to myself. This of course was astounding to Mr. Nettleton and Dr. Beecher. If any of their pretended facts had been received from Mr. Weeks, no doubt they expected him to speak out and justify what he had written. But he said nothing intimating that he had any knowledge of any of the facts that Mr. Nettleton had presented in his letter. The reading of this letter, and what immediately followed, prepared the way for closing up the convention.
And now follow some things that I am sorry to be obliged to mention. Brother Justin Edwards had been present during all the discussions, and had attended. I believe, all the sessions of the convention. He was a very intimate friend of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, and he must have seen clearly how the whole thing stood. Whether at the request of Dr. Beecher, I do not know, near the close of the convention he brought in a string of resolutions, in which, from step to step he had resolved to disapprove of such, and such, and such measures in the promotion of revivals. He had gone over in his resolutions nearly, if not quite, every specification contained in Mr. Nettleton's historical letter, disapproving of all the things which Mr. Nettleton had complained of in that letter. When he had read his resolutions, it was said immediately by several of the brethren from the west: "We approve of these resolutions; but what is their design? It is manifest that their design is to make the public impression that such things have been practiced; and that this convention, condemning those practices, condemns the brethren that have been engaged in those revivals; and that this convention justifies, therefore, the opposition that has been made to those revivals." Dr. Beecher insisted that the design of the resolutions was entirely prospective; that nothing was asserted or implied with respect to the past, but that they were merely to act as land-marks, and to let it be known that the convention disapproved of such things if they ever should exist, with no implication whatever that any such things had been done.
It was immediately replied, that from the fact that such complaints have gone abroad, and it is publicly known that such charges have been made, and such things complained of, it is evident that these resolutions were designed to cover the retreat of the brethren who had made this opposition, and to make the impression that such things have been done in those revivals as are condemned in these resolutions; and therefore to justify the opposition of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, so much of which has found its way to the public. It was indeed perfectly plain that such was the meaning of those resolutions on the part of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. The brethren from the west said: "Of course we shall vote for these resolutions. We believe in these things as much as you do, and we as much disapprove of the practices condemned in these resolutions as you do yourselves; therefore we cannot help voting for them. But we do say, we believe that they are intended to justify this opposition, to have a retrospective rather than a prospective application." However we passed the resolutions, I believe unanimously; and I recollect saying that for my part I was willing that these resolutions should go forth, and that all the facts should be left to the publication and adjudication of the solemn judgment. I then proposed that before we dismissed we should pass a resolution against lukewarmness in religion, and condemning it as strongly as any of the practices mentioned in any of the resolutions. Dr. Beecher declared that there was no danger of lukewarmness at all; whereupon the convention adjourned sine die.
How the publication of the whole proceedings was received by the public I need not say. In the second volume of the biography of Dr. Beecher on page 101, I find the following note by the editor. He says, "A careful perusal of the minutes of this convention has satisfied us that there was no radical difference of views between the western brethren and those from New England; and that but for the influence of one individual the same settlement might have been made there which was afterward effected at Philadelphia." This is no doubt true. The fact is that had not Mr. Nettleton listened to false reports and got committed against those revivals no convention would have been held upon this subject or thought of. It was all the more wonderful that he should have credited such reports as he had so often been made the subject of manifold misrepresentations. But he was nearly worn out, had become exceedingly nervous and was of course fearful and easily excited and withal had the infirmity attributed to him by Dr. Beecher in his biography of never giving up his own will. I am sure that I say this with entirely kind feelings toward Mr. Nettleton. I never entertained or had any other.
After this convention the reaction of public feeling against Brother Nettleton was overwhelming. Late in the fall of the same year I met him in the city of New York. He told me he was there to give his letters against the western revivals to the public in pamphlet form. I asked him if he would publish his "historical letter" which he read before the convention. He said he must publish his letters to justify what he had done. I told him if he published that letter it would react to his ruin as all who were acquainted with those revivals would see that he was acting without a valid reason. He replied that he should publish his letters and would risk the reaction. He published several other letters but that one he did not publish so far as I could learn. If it had been true the publication of it would have made the impression that his opposition had been called for. But as it was not true, it was well for him that he did not publish it.
Here I must take a slight notice of some things I find in Dr. Beecher's biography about which I think there must have been some misunderstanding. The biography represents him as having justified his opposition to those revivals that is to the manner in which they were conducted until the day of his death and as having maintained that the evils complained of were real and were corrected by their opposition. If this was his opinion after that convention he must still have believed that the brethren who testified at that convention that no such things had been done were as he had previously written to Dr. Taylor a set of liars, and he must have wholly rejected our united testimony. But as he and Mr. Nettleton were exceedingly anxious to justify their opposition if they still believed those statements in Mr. Nettleton's "historical letter'' to be true why did they not publish it and appeal to those who were on the ground and witnessed the revivals? Had the letter been true, its publication would have been their justification. If they still believed it true, why was it not published with Mr. Nettleton's other letters? That the developments made at that convention has shaken the confidence of Dr. Beecher in the wisdom and justice of Mr. Nettleton's opposition to those revivals I had inferred from the fact that during my labors in Boston a year and a half after the convention and after Mr. Nettleton's letters were published, Dr. Beecher in speaking of that convention remarked that after that he "would not have had Mr. Nettleton come to Boston for a thousand dollars." Is it possible that until his death Dr. Beecher continued to believe that the pastors of those churches where those revivals occurred were liars and not to be believed in regard to facts which must have been within their personal knowledge? What will those churches say to this?
I find in the biographies of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton much complaint of the bad spirit that prevailed in those revivals. Their mistake lies in their attributing a spirit of denunciation to the wrong side. I never heard the name of Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton mentioned during those revivals in public that I recollect and certainly not censoriously. They were never even in private conversation spoken of to my knowledge with the least bitterness. The friends and promoters of those revivals were in a sweet Christian spirit and as far as possible from being denunciatory. If they had been in a denunciatory spirit, those blessed revivals could never have been promoted by them and the revivals could never have turned out as gloriously as they did. No, the denunciation was on the side of the opposition. A quotation from Dr. Beecher's biography will illustrate the animus of the opposition. Volume 2, page 101, Dr. Beecher is represented as saying to me at the convention at New Lebanon, "Finney, I know your plan and you know I do; you mean to come to Connecticut and carry a streak of fire to Boston. But if you attempt it, as the Lord liveth I'll meet you at the state line and call out all the artillerymen and fight every inch of the way to Boston and then I'll fight you there." I do not remember this, but as Dr. Beecher does let it illustrate the spirit of his opposition. The fact is, he was grossly deceived at every step. I had no design nor desire to go to Connecticut nor Boston. The above and many other things I find in his biography show how completely he was deceived and how utterly ignorant he was of the character and motives and doings of those who had labored in those glorious revivals. I write these things with no pleasure. I find much in this biography that surprises me, and leads me to the conclusion that by some mistake Dr. Beecher has been misunderstood and misrepresented. But I pass by other matters.
After this convention I heard no more of the opposition of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. As I shall relate Mr. Nettleton published a pamphlet of his letters designed to justify himself. But they fell dead from the press, I believe, for I scarcely heard them spoken of. Opposition in that form had spent itself. The results of the revivals that had been so opposed were such as to shut the mouths of gainsayers and convince everybody that they were indeed pure and glorious revivals of religion, and as far from anything objectionable as any revivals that ever were witnessed in this world. Let anyone read the Acts of the Apostles in the promotion of the revivals of their day and then read what they say in their epistles of the reaction, backsliding and apostacies that followed. Then let them find out the truth respecting the glorious revivals of which I have been writing, their commencement, progress, and results, which have been more and more manifest for nearly forty years, and they can not fail to see that these revivals were much more pure and resulted much more favorably than those. Indeed I have never witnessed a revival anywhere of the results of which such complaints could be justly made as were made by the apostles of the revivals of their day. This ought to be, and so it is.
Revivals should increase in purity and power as intelligence increases. The converts in apostolic times were either Jews with all their prejudice and ignorance or degraded heathen. The art of printing had not been discovered. Copies of the Old Testament and of the written Word of God were not to be had except by the rich who were able to purchase manuscript copies. Christianity had no literature that was accessible to the masses. The means of instruction were not at hand. With so much darkness and ignorance, with so many false notions of religion; with so much to mislead and debase and such limited means of instruction and so few facilities for sustaining a religious reformation, it was not to be expected that revivals of religion should be so pure and free from errors to be lamented as they should be expected to be in these latter days, with all our Bibles and means of instruction.
We have and preach the same Gospel that the apostles preached. We have every facility for guarding against error in doctrine and practice and for securing a sound Gospel religion. The people amongst whom these great revivals prevailed were an intelligent cultivated people. They had not only secular but religious education abounding in their midst. Nearly every church had an educated, and an able and faithful pastor. These pastors were well able to judge of the ability, soundness, and discretion of an evangelist whose labors they wished to enjoy. They were well able to judge of the propriety of the measures they saw fit to employ.
God set His seal to the doctrines that were preached and to the means that were used to carry forward that great work of God in a most striking and remarkable manner. The results are now found in all parts of the land. The converts of those revivals are still living and laboring for Christ and souls in almost or quite in every state in this union. It is no flattery to them to say that they are amongst the most intelligent and useful Christians in this or any other country. The measures used to promote these revivals were in no proper sense objectionable. They were simply preaching, prayer and such meetings for instruction, prayer and confession as were plainly demanded by the necessities of the people. There was no wildness, no appearance of fanaticism or of heresy. No bad or denunciatory spirit amongst the converts, indeed I never saw nor heard nor read of revivals of religion more free from every thing deplorable than were these revivals which mysteriously excited or rather were the occasion of so much opposition at the time from some good but mistaken men. So much was said and written about new measures that it seems to have been taken for granted that there was very much to deplore in the means used to promote that blessed work of the Holy Spirit. This is an entire mistake.
As I have since labored extensively in this country and in Europe and no exceptions have been taken to my measures, it has been assumed and asserted that since the opposition made by Mr. Nettleton and Dr. Beecher I have been reformed and have given up the measures they complained of. This again is an entire mistake. I have always and everywhere used all the measures I used in these revivals, and have often added other measures such as the anxious seat whenever I have deemed it expedient. I have never seen the necessity of reformation in this respect. Were I to live my life over again, I think that with the experience of more than forty years in revival labors I should under the same circumstance use substantially the same measures that I did then. And let me not be understood to take credit to myself. No indeed. It was no wisdom of my own that directed me. I was made to feel my ignorance and dependence and led to look to God continually for His guidance. I had no doubt then nor have I ever had that God led me by His Spirit to take the course I did. So clearly did He lead me from day to day that I never did nor could doubt that I was divinely directed.
It is altogether a mistake to suppose that the opposition of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton made me ashamed of what I had done as Dr. Beecher's biography represents and that I reformed and that consequently their opposition ceased. I may safely appeal to all who heard me in those revivals and who witnessed the measures that I used, and who have since heard me and seen my measures in every place, to say whether I have not always and everywhere employed the measures that I employed in central New York in those great revivals, and in many places I have added other measures as in my judgment they were demanded. That the brethren who opposed those revivals were good men I do not doubt. That they were, by somebody, misled and grossly and most injuriously deceived I have just as little doubt. If they died under the belief that they had just reason for what they did, and wrote, and said and that they corrected the evils of which they complained, they died grossly deceived in this respect. It is not for the safety of the church, the honor of revivals or the glory of Christ that posterity should believe that those evils existed and were corrected by such a spirit and in such a manner as has been represented. I should have remained silent had not so marked an effort been made to perpetuate and confirm the delusion that the opposition to those revivals was justifiable and successful. The fact is they were neither.
I have no doubt that Dr. Beecher was led by somebody to believe that his opposition was called for. From his biography it appears that at Philadelphia the next spring after the convention it was agreed by himself, Dr. Beman and others to drop the subject and publish no more in regard to those revivals. The truth is that all the controversy and all the publishing had been on the side of the opposition. Previously to the meeting at Philadelphia Mr. Nettleton had published his letters and I saw nothing further in print upon the subject.
I was not a party to the agreement entered into at Philadelphia; nevertheless had not Dr. Beecher's biography reopened this subject with the manifest design to justify the course that he took and rivet the impression upon the public mind that in making that opposition to those revivals he performed a great and good work, I should not feel called upon to say what I cannot now be justified in withholding. I write from personal knowledge and to me it matters not who may have given to Dr. Beecher the supposed facts upon which he acted. They doubtless were in substance the same as those mentioned in Mr. Nettleton's "historical letter" read by him to the convention. Those asserted facts were no facts as I stated before the convention to which statement every brother with whom I had labored assented. This was proof if anything can be proven by human testimony. This testimony it would seem Dr. Beecher did not believe, if his biographer has not misrepresented him. And what will the churches in Oneida County say to this? Will they, can they believe that such men as Rev. Dr. Aikin, Rev. John Frost, Rev. Moses Gillett, Rev. Mr. Coe and the other men from that county who attended that convention deliberately falsified upon a subject which was within their own personal knowledge? They can never believe it. It matters not who Dr. Beecher's informants were. Certainly none of the pastors where those revivals prevailed ever gave him any information that justified his course and no other men understood the matter as well as they did. I submit that as the convention decided they were the best possible witnesses of what was said and done in their own congregations and their testimony was unanimous that no such things were done as were charged in Mr. Nettleton's "historical letter."
We never could learn from whom Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton received their information. This was suspicious. If the things were true which were affirmed by their correspondents why conceal their names? Had they a right to receive their testimony and act upon it in such a public manner and yet refuse to give their names? I had read the strong and even terrible charges against the brethren who labored in those revivals, contained in Dr. Beecher's letter to Dr. Taylor, in which he states that his correspondence will justify what he was doing and writing against those brethren. When I learned that this matter was to be spread before the public in the doctor's biography, I hoped that, at last, we should get at the authors of those reports through the publication of his correspondence. But I see nothing in his correspondence to justify his course. Are these charges still to be virtually repeated and stereotyped and the correspondence by which they are said to be justified, concealed? If as it seems Dr. Beecher until the day of his death continued to reject our united testimony may we not know by whose counter testimony ours is impeached?
On page I03 of volume 2 of Dr. Beecher's autobiography, we have the following. "In the spring of 1828, said Dr. Beecher, in conversation on the subject, I found out that Mr. Finney's friends were laying their plans to make an impression on the general assembly, that held its session at Philadelphia, and to get one of their men into Mr. Skinner's place. Skinner's church had just asked me to preach for them and I wrote back that I would supply, if they wished, while the Assembly was in session. That blocked somebody's wheels. I staid till the close when Beman preached half a day. That defeated their plans. They failed." What this means I cannot say. In reading the above, and what follows to the end of the chapter, together with what I find elsewhere on this subject in this biography, I stand amazed in view of the suspicions and delusions under which Dr. Beecher's mind was laboring. If any of my friends were trying to get into Dr. Skinner's pulpit which he had vacated, I have no recollection of ever having heard of it. I was, at that time, a minister in the Presbyterian church, and was preaching in Philadelphia when the Assembly was in session, and Dr. Beecher was there. I wonder how much Dr. Beecher's influence with the members of that assembly had to do with the mysterious opposition to revivals which soon after appeared in that body and which I felt called to notice in my lectures on revivals. I kept about my revival work in Philadelphia and elsewhere without being diverted or agitated by what Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton were saying or doing, and with no thought whatever of having any controversy with them.
I was as ignorant as a child of all this management revealed in Dr. Beecher's biography. It seems that the Dr. and Mr. Nettleton were suffering under a vast amount of excitement, suspicion and misapprehension in regard to my motives, plans, and labors, and the plans, and motives of those whom they regarded as my committed friends, whilst I was attending to my revival work without any plan or motive whatever but to go when and where the Lord called me to work. This work I pursued without interruption except the few days I was at the convention. I shared none of the terrors and distractions that seem to have so much distressed Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. If any of my friends were sharing in the state of mind in which Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton were, I knew it not. The truthful record of my labors up to the time of the convention and from that time onward will show how little I knew of or cared about what Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton were saying or doing about me. I bless the Lord that I was kept from being diverted from my work by their opposition and that I never gave myself any uneasiness about it.
When at Auburn as I have related, God had given me the assurance that He would overrule all opposition without my turning aside to answer my opposers. This I never forgot. Under this divine assurance I went forward with a single eye and a trustful spirit and now when I read what agitations, suspicions, and misapprehensions possessed the minds of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton I stand amazed at their delusions and consequent anxieties respecting myself and my labors. God kept me full of love and faith and filled my heart and hands with most successful labors. At the very time that Dr. Beecher was in Philadelphia managing with members of the general assembly as related in his biography, I was laboring in that city and had been for several months, in different churches in the midst of a powerful revival of religion as ignorant of Dr. Beecher's errand there as a babe. He was there it seems to influence the general assembly against me and to keep some friend of mine from occupying the pulpit vacated by Dr. Skinner. I wonder who that friend was, and how much credit he deserved, for this service. I cannot be too thankful that God kept me from being agitated and changed in my spirit, or views of labor by all that was passing in the ranks of the opposition in those days. As I have said I neither heard nor felt much of the opposition after the convention. I knew from Mr. Nettleton himself that he felt keenly the reaction of public sentiment against him. I knew that he and Dr. Beecher had been misinformed and misled and had got into a bad scrape but not until I had seen their biographies was I aware how much trouble and perplexity it cost them to get out of it.
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOK STORE