Labors in England till 1860


During my absence from England, a new pastor had been settled at the Tabernacle over the congregation of Dr. Campbell, and a new order of things had been introduced. Troubles had occurred in the congregation that had caused most of the converts of the revival when I was there to withdraw and go to other churches. Before I speak of the labors that I at this time performed in England, I must notice some opposition that I met with the first time that I was there, that I have passed over. I have already spoken of the letters received by John Angell James when I was at Birmingham, both from this and the other side of the Atlantic. When I arrived at London the letters were directed to Dr. Campbell, but as they were nearly or quite all anonymous, he would have nothing to do with them. As soon as he saw that they were anonymous, and were about me, he would hand them to me, and would not read them unless I requested him to do so. They made no other impression upon him that I could see than to arouse his indignation.

A little while before I left him, however, he received a copy of "The Presbyterian," published at that time, I believe, in Philadelphia, and edited, as I afterwards learned, by Mr. Prime, since editor of the New York Observer. The article was designed to warn the British churches against me and my influence. Among other severe things the writer said that as he hoped to be saved, and as he expected to answer it at the solemn judgment, he must say that there was no man living or dead that had done so much to injure the cause of revivals as I had done. That the churches where I had labored had wept tears of blood over the desolation that had resulted from those revivals. I give as nearly his words as I can recollect. I do not know that this made any particular impression on Dr. Campbell's mind other than to arouse his indignation. However, I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Evangelist, and inquired who this editor of the Presbyterian was, for then I did not know. I also inquired where those churches were that had wept tears of blood over those revivals, and what evidence he had of any such thing. I then appealed to all the churches and brethren where I had labored, if they knew of any such disastrous results from those revivals to write, and publish their letters, and let it be known throughout the world. I affirmed that I knew of no such results anywhere where I had labored. I made as strong an appeal as I could to all the churches and ministers where I had labored to say if they knew ought of the things with which he had charged me. That I did not want them to say ought in my favor. But if they knew anything against me, or of the results of my labors, I wanted they should make it known, for I did not know it myself.

This letter I directed to Brother Joshua Leavitt the editor of the New York Evangelist, and I waited and received no notice of it. He did not publish it, and I could not understand why. This was but a little while before I left London to return home, but the answer did not come as soon as I expected, by any means. When I arrived in New York I found that the letter had been published, and several answers were given by brethren with whom I had labored. This had taken place while I was on my passage home from London. On inquiring of Brother Leavitt why the letter had not been published sooner, he informed me that he received it from the office just as he was starting on a journey, and by mistake he put it in his pocket instead of leaving it in the office to be published. Hence no more attention was paid to it until after he returned, and by chance found it in his pocket, and then he had it immediately published. But as I had returned and was again in this country, but two or three letters had been written by my friends on this side and published. They supposing that now I had returned there was no use of writing further, those of them that were expecting to write said no more about it. How Mr. Prime came by such an idea of those revivals I cannot say, but I presume he came by it very much as Mr. Nettleton and Dr. Beecher received their information.

On our second visit to England we landed at Liverpool, and from thence went to Houghton, Huntingdonshire, to my good friend, Potto Brown's. We found him away from home in search of us. I had dropped him a line two or three days before we left New York, saying that we expected to take passage in the Persia. We arrived on Saturday morning in Liverpool and went and spent the Sabbath with Brother William James, formerly of New York, an old and tried friend of mine. Brother Brown had left home expecting to arrive in Liverpool in time to meet us. But we had left the ship and had gone, as I said, to Brother James', so that he failed to meet us. He, however, drove to all the principal hotels and inquired for us. He went on board the ship and tried to learn where we had gone, but they could give him no reliable information. He then concluded we had gone to London, and forthwith went there; and when he found we were not there, he returned home on the same evening that we arrived at his house, but after our arrival. He had been two or three days running almost night and day. His object was to have us labor in Houghton for a season before we committed ourselves to any other field of labor.

Immediately on our arrival I received a great number of letters from different parts of England, expressing great joy at our return there, and inviting us to come and labor in many different fields. However, I spent several weeks laboring in Houghton and Saint Ives, where we saw precious revivals. In Saint Ives they had never had a revival before. In Houghton, as I have before said, we labored during our first visit there, and saw a very interesting work of grace. At this time we found at Saint Ives a very curious state of things. There was but one Independent church, the pastor of which had been there a good many years, but had not succeeded in doing much as a minister. He was a mysterious sort of man. He was very fond of wine, and a great opposer of temperance. We held our meetings at Saint Ives in a hall that had been built for the accommodation of lectures on various subjects, which would accommodate more people by far than the Congregational church. I sometimes preached, however, in the Congregational church, but it was a less desirable place to preach in than the hall, as it was a very small and incommodious house.

The revival took a powerful effect there, notwithstanding the position of the Congregational minister. He stood firmly against it until the interest became so great that he left the town, and was absent, I know not where, for several weeks. Since that time the converts of the revival, together with my friend Brown, and some of the older members of the church, have put up a fine chapel, as I understand, in that city; and the religious state of things has been exceedingly different from what it ever had been before.

I have said they had a new pastor in Dr. Campbell's place at the Tabernacle in London. For some reason he was very much prejudiced against me, and did not invite me to preach to his people. I have also spoken of Brother James Harcourt as being the pastor at Houghton at the time I first labored there. The revival at that place had not only greatly quickened him, but it had given him new ideas of promoting revivals of religion. He remained at Houghton for some two or three years after I left there, and then was invited to a much wider field of labor, I believe in Luton. There he went to work and had a powerful revival of religion under his own ministry. He soon built up a large congregation, and came to be more publicly known by far than he ever had been before. This led to his being called to London, to Borough Road Chapel. Here I found him on my second visit to England. He had been waiting with anxiety for our return to England, and as soon as he heard we were there, he used most strenuous efforts to secure our labors with him in London. The church over which he presided in London had been torn to pieces by most ultra and fanatical views on the subject of Temperance. They had had a lovely pastor, whose heart had been almost broken by their feuds upon that subject, and had finally left the church in utter discouragement. Their deacons had been compelled to resign, and the church was in a state of disorganization--or perhaps, to use our American phrase, of demoralization. Brother Harcourt came to Saint Ives and informed me that unless the church could be converted, he was satisfied he never could succeed in doing much in that field.

As soon as we could leave Saint Ives we went to London to see what could be done with Brother Harcourt's church and congregation. We found them as he had represented, in so demoralized a state that it seemed questionable whether the church could ever be resuscitated and built up. However, we went to work, my wife among the ladies of the congregation; and I went to preaching, and searching them, to the utmost of my strength. It was very soon perceptible that the Spirit of God was poured out, and that the church were very generally in a state of great conviction. The work deepened and spread till it reached, I believe, every household belonging to that congregation. All the old members of the church were so searched that they made confession one to another, and settled their difficulties, and Brother Harcourt told me before I left that his church was entirely a new church. That is, that they were so thoroughly overhauled that they were quite a new people; that the blessing of God had been universal among them, so that all their old animosities were healed; and that he had the greatest comfort in them. Indeed the work in that church was really most wonderful. I directed my labors for several weeks to the church itself. Brother Harcourt had been praying for them and laboring with them till he was almost discouraged, but the blessing at last came in such a fullness as fully to meet the longings of his heart. His people were reconverted and cemented together in love, and they learned to take hold of the work themselves.

Some years after my return to this place Brother Harcourt came over and made us a visit. This was a little while after the death of my dear wife. He had overworked, and was obliged to leave his church for a considerable time, and he visited this country for rest. He then told me that the work had continued in his church up to that time. That his people felt that if there were not more or less conversions every week, something was entirely wrong. They were frightened if the work was not perceptibly and constantly going forward. He said they stood by him, and he felt every Sabbath as if he was in the midst of a praying atmosphere. Indeed his report of the results of that revival up to the time of his leaving, was deeply interesting. Considering what the church had been, and what it was after the revival, it is no wonder that Brother Harcourt's heart was as full as it could hold of thanksgiving to God for such a great blessing.

In this place, as had been the case before at Dr. Campbell's, there were great revelations made of iniquity that had been covered up for a long time among professors of religion. These cases were frequently brought to my notice by persons coming to me to ask for advice. This was not only true of some professors of religion, but of numbers that had never made a profession of religion, who became terribly convicted of sin. The revelations that are often made in revivals of religion of the terrible things in which men have been engaged, frequently far exceed anything that would be so much as suspected by any who had never had any experience in this matter.

The conversions in Brother Harcourt's congregation were numerous. I say his congregation, I mean, of course, those who attended his meetings, for I believe the number of professedly unconverted sinners was very small previous to my arrival. But the house immediately filled up, and was filled to its utmost capacity very soon after our meetings commenced. I do not know, and never shall know in this world, the numbers of conversions that occurred there, although after the church got into the work they multiplied on every side. Soon after I began my labors at this time in London, a Dr. Tregelles, a distinguished literary man and a professed theologian, wrote to Dr. Campbell, calling his attention to what he regarded as a great error in my theology. In treating upon the conditions of salvation I had said in my Systematic Theology, that the Atonement of Christ was one of the conditions. I said the foundation or source from which our salvation flowed was the love of God--that God's infinite love was the foundation or source from which the whole movement sprang; but that the conditions upon which we could be saved were the Atonement of Christ, faith, repentance, sanctification, etc. To this statement Dr. Tregelles took great exceptions.

Strange to tell, instead of going to my Theology and seeing just what I did say, Dr. Campbell took it up in his paper and agreed with Dr. Tregelles, and wrote several articles in opposition to what he supposed to be my views. I had explained in my Theology what I meant by the foundation upon which our salvation rested. I had said that love was the source from which the whole movement proceeded. Dr. Campbell did not go to my Theology to see that this was my own statement, nor did Dr. Tregelles. They both of them strangely misunderstood my position, and got up in England at this time a good deal of opposition to my labors. Dr. Campbell, it appeared, after all had no doubt at all of my orthodoxy. Dr. Redford insisted upon it that my statement of the matter was right, and that any other statement was far from being right. However, I paid no attention publicly to Dr. Campbell's strictures on the subject. They injured him a great deal more than they did myself. I was not at that time laboring in his congregation, and a great many of his readers, perhaps falsely, but they in fact did impute to him other motives than concern for orthodoxy in what he wrote at that time.

He afterwards wrote me a letter, which I have now in my possession, subscribing fully to my orthodoxy and to my views, but saying that unfortunately I made discriminations in my theology that common people did not understand. The fact is, a great many people understood them better than the Doctor did himself. He had been educated in Scotland, and was after the straightest sect a Scotch theologian; consequently, my New School statements of doctrine puzzled him, and it took him some time to understand them. When I preached for him, at first he would say, "Brother Finney, you reason too much with the people; it is of no use. Just make your statements. It is of no use to reason with them, for they will not understand you." I told him that they would understand me, and that he would see in the event that they had understood me. The fact is, that with him theology was to a great extent dogmatic.

I found when I first arrived in England that their theology was to a very great extent dogmatic. They had, as everybody knows, a good many years ago come out from the Roman Church. They then had their thirty-nine articles in the established church, and their Presbyterian Confession of faith, and these they regarded as authority. They were not at all in the habit of trying to prove the positions taken in these "standards," as they were called, but dealt them out as dogmas. When I began to preach they were surprised that I reasoned with the people. Dr. Campbell did not approve it, and insisted that it would do no good. But the people felt otherwise; and it was not uncommon for me to receive such intelligence as this, that my reasonings had convinced them of what they had always doubted; and that my preaching was logical instead of dogmatic, and therefore met the wants of the people. I had myself, before I was converted, felt greatly the want of instruction and logical preaching from the pulpit. The only minister under whose instruction I had ever sat who was really a man of learning and ability, was Brother Gale; and he was a Princeton theologian, and failed altogether to meet my intellectual wants. I used to tell him so. I often told him before I was converted, that he seemed to begin in the middle of his discourse, so far as the congregation was concerned, that he assumed that we knew and admitted what we did not know and admit, and consequently the foundations not being laid in our minds he did not produce conviction. This experience always had a great influence upon my own preaching. I knew how thinking men felt when a minister took for granted the very things that needed proof. I therefore used to take great pains to meet the wants of persons who were in the state of mind in which I had been before I was converted. I knew what my difficulties had been, and therefore I endeavored to meet the intellectual wants of my hearers.

I told Dr. Campbell this, but at first he had no faith that the people would understand me and appreciate my reasonings. But when he came to receive the converts, and to converse personally with them about what they did understand, he confessed to me again and again his surprise that they had so well understood my reasonings. "Why," he would say, "they are theologians." He was very frank on this point, and confessed to me how erroneous his views had been upon that subject.

After I had finished my labors at Borough Road Chapel, we left London and went back to Brother Brown's at Houghton. We rested for a season there, and such was the state of my health that I thought I must return home. However, after resting two or three weeks Dr. Foster, an excellent Christian man living in Huntington, urged us very much to go to his house and finish our rest, and let him see if he could do anything for me as a physician. I told him I took no medicine, but he thought by nursing he could do what was needed to be done. We accepted his invitation and went to his house. He had a family of eight children, all unconverted. The oldest son was also a physician, and a remarkably clever young man in the English sense of the term. He was a young man of remarkable talents, but a most intensified skeptic. He had embraced Comte's philosophy, and settled down in extreme views of atheism, or I should say, of Nihilism. He seemed not to believe anything. He had embraced that form of philosophy that runs everything into the ground, that comes to the conclusion that there is in fact no such thing as existence, that everything that appears to be is only a seeming, and that seeming is nothing. This young man was Dr. Foster's eldest child, and a very affectionate son; but his skepticism had deeply wounded his father, and for his conversion he had come to feel an unutterable longing. He had given me an account of his son's religious position before I went there; consequently, I waited for an opportunity to get at the young man, and if possible annihilate his skepticism.

After remaining at the Doctor's two or three weeks, my health became such that I began to preach. There never had been a revival in Huntington, and they really had no conception of what a revival would be. I occupied what they called "Temperance Hall," the only large hall in the town. It was always full to its utmost capacity, and the Spirit of the Lord was soon poured out upon the people. I soon found an opportunity to converse with young Dr. Foster. I drew him out into some long walks, and entered fully into an investigation of his views, and finally, under God, succeeded in bringing him to a perfect standstill. He saw that all his philosophy was used up, and its foundations all fell away. I said to him: "My dear young man, now you see what all your skepticism amounts to, and that you are confounded like a fool in the presence of the truth of the Gospel." He admitted it, and became very anxious about his soul.

Just at the time when his anxiety was ripening I preached one Sabbath evening on the text: "The hail shall sweep away the refuges of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding places. Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand." At the close of my discourse, in dwelling upon the hail's sweeping away the refuges of lies and the waters overflowing the hiding places, I drew a picture as vividly as I could of one of our American hailstorms, the like of which they never have in England, I suppose on account of its being so far north. I had spent my strength in searching out the refuges of lies, and exposing them, and concluded with this picture of the hailstorm, and the descending torrent of rain that swept away what the hail had not demolished. The impression on the congregation was at the time very deep. That night young Dr. Foster could not sleep, his agony was so great. His father hearing him up went up to his room, and found him in the greatest consternation and agony of mind. But I should have said, that the immediate reason of this great fear and agony was, that about ten o'clock at night there came up a fearful thunderstorm, such as they seldom have in England, and such was his sense of guilt that he had an impression that a storm of hail was about to sweep him to hell. Soon after he became calm, and to all appearance passed from death unto life. Dr. and Mrs. Foster's prayers for their children were heard. The revival went through their family, and converted every one of them. It was a joyful house, and one of the most lovely families that I ever had the privilege of residing in. We remained at his house while we continued our labors in Huntington.

The revival took a very general hold of the church, and of professors of religion in that town, and spread extensively among the unconverted; but I know not the number of conversions that occurred. However, the revival greatly changed the religious aspect of things in that town. There was then no Congregational church there. There were two or three churches of the Establishment, one Methodist, and one Baptist, at that time in Huntington. Since then the converts of that revival, together with Brother Brown and his son and those Christians that were blest in the revival, have united and built, as I understand, a commodious chapel at Huntington, as they did at Saint Ives.

I have said that when I was in England the first time Brother Brown had built a chapel at Houghton, and that there were two or three other places in the neighboring villages where his minister preached from time to time. He had pushed this work of evangelization with such energy, that when I arrived there the second time I found that he had seven churches in as many different villages in that neighborhood, and was employing preachers, and teachers, and laborers for souls, to the number of twenty. He is still pushing forward this work, and as I have related has succeeded with what help he could get, in building the two fine chapels at Saint Ives and at Huntington since I was last there. To how many other villages this work has been extended since I left I cannot say. To the chapel at Saint Ives, Brother Brown contributed three thousand pounds sterling; to the chapel in Huntington he also contributed three thousand pounds sterling, and his son about half that amount, I think. His means of doing good have fully kept pace with his princely outlays for souls. When I first arrived in England he was running a hired flour mill with ten pair of stones; the second time I was there, in addition to this hired one he was running a mill which he had built at Saint Ives, at an expense of twenty thousand pounds sterling, with sixteen pair of stones; in addition to these he has since built at Huntington another mill of the same capacity. Thus God pours into his coffers as fast as he pours out into the treasury of the Lord.

From Huntington we returned to London, and labored for several weeks in the northeastern part of the city, in several chapels occupied by a branch of the Methodist church. One of the places of worship was in Spitalsfield, the house having been originally built, I think, by the Huguenots. It was a commodious place of worship, and we had a glorious work of grace there.

Some very striking providences occurred in that congregation while we held meetings there. One Sabbath evening I had invited them "to come forward around the altar," as the Methodists express it, and give their hearts to God. One lady who was present refused to come forward, but was observed by those immediately around her to be in great agony of mind. They invited and urged her to go forward, but she declined. I had made a strong appeal to them not to hesitate, and as I frequently did, had warned them that might be their last opportunity. But for some reason this lady did not come forward. The next morning she was called to visit a friend who was dangerously ill at a distance from London, and she set off in the morning on the railroad to make this visit. She had been strongly exercised in her mind through the night, and her agony had been too great to permit her to sleep; but for some reason she could not be persuaded to submit. She started on this journey, and died on the railroad carriage before she arrived at her destination. Her friends in the congregation immediately reported this to me as a very striking and affecting fact.

On the next Sabbath evening, when I made the call for them to come forward, I related this fact to the crowded congregation, and again warned them that that might be their last time. There was then a man in the congregation who was in great distress of mind, which being observed by his friends they urged him till I think he went forward, but reluctantly. But when he had come forward, he refused to give his heart to God. The brethren remained and prayed for him, if I recollect right, after the service was over, and took much pains to try to bring him to Christ, but in vain. He stood out against all their entreaties. The next day he died in an apoplectic fit. These two very striking cases made a great impression upon the people that attended worship there.

I held services in several other chapels in that part of London, and we had a good work, which continued and increased till late in the summer.


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