The GOSPEL TRUTH
MAN OF LIKE PASSIONS
The Life Story of Charles Grandison Finney
A Dramatic Biography
by Richard Ellsworth Day
1. THE ABOVE ALL MOUNTAIN
THESE mountains of western Connecticut have a pleasant seat. It seems strange that one who has spent a life time in the Sierras should find an equal place of affection for them. Go where you will-north from Danbury, west from Hartford, south from Monterey, there they are, greeting you with all the grace of home folks. And this is quite certain, it is only a rude heart that can laugh at the love-name one of them bears, "The Above All Mountain." Lo, God has sprouted some mighty cedars on it's slopes. --Sketch Book
WHEN the anniversaries of Christian Great Hearts draw near, it is good for men with inkhorns by their sides to report the matter, in the hope that the younger generation may ask "What mean ye by this service?" A goodly Book commends a cunning answer to this question: "Thou art to behold how the Lord showed signs and wonders through these men; and it shall be our righteousness if we observe to do even as they did." Full many a time in the economy of God, this has resulted in a fresh visitation from on high.
That is why in the year 1942 the eyes of Christendom look upon the little village of Warren in western Connecticut, lying on the north slope of "The Above All Mountain, elevation 1456 feet." For there, August 29, 1792, Charles Grandison Finney was born.
In a score of ways, the life and times of Finney open up a writer's wonderland. Everything is there for making pretty splashes of color , particularly the pioneer scene so highly relished by the American mind. But the purpose of this book compels it, though familiar with this treasury of materials, to present such matters only as contribute to a ruling purpose. It must have been trying for Habakkuk, whose ruling purpose, to point out the hiding of power, required him to condense an ancient theophany into one short sentence, "God's glory covered the heavens and the earth was full of His praise." The sentences of this book likewise are under the tension of being written in full view of the life of Finney, but required to serve the unfolding of a single thesis, namely,"A conventional man, using conventional means is God's conventional method for bringing a fresh impulse toward Heaven."
The humble village of Warren on the edge of The Above All State Park of Connecticut, with a child cradled in a Pioneer Home, constitute a perfect proscenium for the major purpose and philosophy of Finney's life, namely,--Revivals of religion are gifts which God is always desirous of sending upon a thirsty earth, and He needs nothing save sons of men to deliver them from His hand. Furthermore, there is no necessity that these servants possess angelic quality. God's visitations appear not as a result of the towering excellence of men, but rather as an inflexible, sequence of their humble obedience.
"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the rain brought forth her fruit" (James 5:17-18.)
Let us go Colonial and divide this text after the manner of the men in Broad Brims, who lived at the Back Yard of Finney's day:
My brethren, thou art called upon1. To observe herein an ordinary fellow, one indeed after thine own fashion. His refinements were of no special interest, and often the same company of swine that trouble thee did grunt through his Rose Garden. "Elias was a man of like passion as we are." But,
2. Thou art to observe that this common fellow had the uncommon good sense, to use God's appointed means for negativing his first Adam, "He prayed earnestly." And,
3. Be pleased to note how by his prayer, his like-passions were modified in such a fashion that God could answer, "the heaven gave rain." Moreover and supremely,
4. Rejoice in the April wonder of it all, and apply it to thine own encouragement, "the earth brought forth her fruit."
* * * * *
The boyhood and youth of Finney frame with rustic excellence the major premise before us. Sylvester Finney, Charles Grandison's father, a soldier of the Revolution at fifteen, settled down with his wife after the war in the wilds at Warren. In 1794, two years after Charles was born, the ox train creaked, and the family moved into the midst of the Oneida Indians at Hanover, New York. Here Charles received several years of frontier schooling, two of which were spent in the Indian Institute. The ox-train creaked again, and the family made a two weeks' journey of reaching Henderson, on Henderson Bay, eighty-seven miles north-west in the virgin wilderness of Lake Ontario. The community was so primitive that the seventeen-year-old boy was "advanced far enough to be supposed capable of teaching a school himself, as common schools were then conducted."
II. BARUCH IN BUCKSKINS
The man who determines to remove all traces of the Bible from the world, would wreck the nations in doing it. The best in poetry, art and music would disappear, for these are, by the large, Bible-based. Even government would collapse. Civil law is a by-product of the gospel. Our Baruch in Buckskins found this out. He was in a fair way to make a great name for himself, but was suddenly brought face to face with the word of God by the pages of Blackstone I From an amazing quarter he was challenged to answer a tremendous question: "Choose you this day whom you will serve." --Sketch Book.
THESE pages take note of Finney, young school master of the log house out on the Adams Road, because the period shares the wholesome common place of everything about his early days. Nothing outstanding, you know. Just an over-sized boy, and a handsome one at that, who alternated the Three R's by outrunning, out-jumping and out-wrestling all his students.
By the time he was twenty-one he felt the need of more study, so he packed his carpet bag, boarded the early Conestogas, and set out for Warren! Why Warren? Well, that's where he was born; and after all, Sylvester, his father, had told him some 'rousing tales of big game in the Above All Mountain. He could alternate study with the muzzle-loader.
Two years in the Warren Academy, (high school to you) brought him an invitation to teach in New Jersey. Surely the ways of life were good! This meant he must first go into New York City'! He was confident New York had no perils for him. His cheek still felt the kiss of his pioneer mother, and his ears remembered with warm gratitude what she said, "I've no fear for you, lad. You've always been a clean boy!" And it was just as thrilling to him, crossing the Hudson to New Jersey on a tiny square sail, as it is for Young America today, riding on a stubby ferry to the Hoboken Terminal.
In his twenty-sixth year the health of his mother brought him back to Henderson. Yet, not quite back. Strange ideas were moving in his heart. The young lawyers of New York City certainly seemed to be a favored lot. He liked New York City . . .
Therefore, he entered, as a student, in his twenty-sixth year, the law office of "Judge" Benjamin Wright, over at Adams. It was only ten miles through the woods; he and "Dash" could gallop over in an hour.
* * * *
The Judge was a short, thick man with a head like Daniel Webster. He spoke habitually in the Albany orotund, even if he wanted a window closed. He cherished secret ambitions that he would some day go up to the legislature, which alas, were never realized. But in keeping with his dreams, he purchased at considerable cost, the five volumes of William Blackstone's Commentaries, the first edition to be published in America. This edition was "bound in sheep," and kept in a prominent place. Prospective clients could not help being impressed with the grand manner of such an attorney.
Young Finney hitched "Dash" and walked into the law office, every inch a Baruch in Buckskins. The older man at once struck the pose of Success dealing with Hopeful Youth. "I am pleased," he said, "to have you begin reading law in my office. It is the obligation of men who deal in the law to perpetuate their profession by passing on their know ledge to the younger generation." They made a strange pair, the heavy old jurist and the tall young frontiersman.
"And here," he said, as if coming into a congressional peroration, "here is the final authority in all matters of law throughout the English-speaking world. (His finger pointed to Blackstone in calf.) These books were printed in Philadelphia a few years ago in the shop of Mr. Robert Carr. William Young and Abraham Small edited the opus for American jurisprudence. No man can hope to make a success at law in this rising young Republic without mastering these volumes."
The judge, despite his stilted speech, was more accurate than he realized. In Great Britain, Blackstone never received the highest favor. English critics said, "He writes well, but his understanding of the deeper points of the law is very superficial." In the newly formed United States, however, Blackstone became overnight the lawyer's Bible. The first edition of Blackstone, in four priceless volumes, came off the London presses in 1769. Within a remarkably brief time, two thousand five hundred sets (ten thousand volumes) were ordered by lawyers in the thirteen colonies, and shipped to America on slow moving sailboats. The English edition and the Philadelphia edition of 1803 brought the number of sets owned in America up to a practical parity with sets sold in Great Britain. It was the chief diet of New England attorneys, and the one accepted authority everywhere. For almost a century the United States "was raised on Blackstone."
"Read these assiduously, young man! (the older lawyer was now in full flight of oratory). Put more time upon these great volumes than you put into your boarding house. I know there's a great future for you."
* * * *
Finney needed but one admonition. What he saw of the legal profession in New York City filled him with a feverish ambition. Night after night a light burned in Wright's Law Office. People noted and began to say, "That young Finney is a coming man," Within a year he had a small consulting clientele; within two years he had a fair-sized regular practice. But also, within that same period a circumstance arose which was destined to remove him from the practice of law forever. This circumstance first appeared within a week of his beginning to read Blackstone: he noted continuous references to "the holy scriptures."
On page 39 of Volume I, he found the first extended reference:"Considering the creator only as a being infinite in power, he was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws he pleased to his creature man, however unjust or severe. But the creator is a being not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but of infinite goodness. Therefore, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, he hath made an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed, or divine law, and are found only in the holy scriptures."
This was a sample of the multiplied references. Whatever the pages might be discussing from King Alfred to Picadilly property rights, the finger of Blackstone would indicate the Bible as the highest authority.
These continued references moved Finney within three months to buy a copy of the Bible. Not that he was getting religious: not at all. He never had known or cared a thing about religion. He had gone to Church to be sure, but nothing came of it. When he was a boy in Oneida County he was amazed at the ignorance of the frontier preachers, and joined in the irrepressible laughter over their mistakes.
In Warren, where he attended academy, the preacher in the big, white, colonial Presbyterian Church on the skimpy main street was an educated preacher; but he spoiled his sermons by holding his Bible against his chest and using eight of his fingers as book marks. "When his fingers were read out, he was near the end of his sermon."
In New Jersey, he didn't go half a dozen times in three years: the preaching was all in German. And in Adams, Rev. Geo. W. Gale, a Princeton graduate, "took it for granted that his hearers were theologians, and his sermons left Finney perplexed rather than edified." The result of all this was, to be perfectly candid, "Finney was as innocent of religion as a heathen ... brought up mostly in the woods ... no definite knowledge of religious truth."
Finney, however, was a regular attendant upon Pastor Gale's services: he had to be,--he was the leader of Gale's choir!
* * * *
But the old law-authors, as Finney called them, roused his first deep interest in the Scriptures. He was soon reading the Bible more than Blackstone. His attendance upon church services increased. He began to be a regular attendant at the mid-week prayer service. But he became depressed as he noted the vitality on the sacred page, and the powerlessness of the local church. Curiously, this did not prove a stumbling-block. He saw the fault was a decadent church, not the Bible. And the result was that by the end of the second year in the law office, he secretly held the view that "the Bible was the true word of God."
Furthermore, old fashioned conviction began to seize his heart. With every passing day, his burden increased: "He should either accept Christ as presented in the Gospels, or, pursue a worldly life." And finally he felt convinced he must not "long hesitate between the two courses of life presented to him."
After a number of days, he came to his conclusion. On Sunday evening, October 7, 1821, he made up his mind that he would settle the question of his soul's salvation at once, and if it were possible, he would make his peace with God. That night before he went to bed, he cried out, "0 God, I promise that I am going to give my heart to Thee."
III. THE DAMASCUS ROAD
"Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, 0 King, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me . . . And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise ... for I have appeared unto thee to make thee a minister and a witness .. to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light ... Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." --Record of Revivals
ON Monday morning, October 8, he left his boarding house early, and hurried to the office. The sky was overcast, the air cold, and the forest trees mostly leafless, save the Oaks and Shell Barks. He walked briskly to the office, and decided to spend the day, except when clients came in, by reading the Bible. Curiously, he was not much occupied with business all day long, so he read his Bible and engaged in prayer most of the time. On Tuesday, October 9, the conditions were the same uninterrupted opportunity to read and pray. The judge had said, "We are going to move Wednesday afternoon, so take it easy until then."
By noon on Tuesday, his emotions were deeply stirred, and he knelt to cry aloud for salvation. He prayed but a few words, then rose and stuffed the keyhole to the door for fear someone would spy upon him. When he returned to prayer, he found he could only whisper. Once in the afternoon a client came down the hall. Finney quickly jumped to his feet and before opening the door, threw the five volumes of Blackstone on the Bible so it could not be seen. After the visitor retired, he pulled the Book out again.
By Tuesday night he was "very nervous." Sleep was denied him. "He knew that if he died he would sink down into hell: but he quieted himself as best he could until morning."
Wednesday, October 10, was a rare Fall day, cloudless from the outset. So, down he started to the office. On the way, an inner voice said, "Did you not promise Sunday night to give your heart to God? What are you waiting for? a righteousness of your own?"
Right then, he said, on his way to the office "he saw the plan of salvation." He did not need any righteousness of his own to commend him to God; he had but to submit himself to the righteousness of God through Christ. His emotions were so roused that he stopped dead still in the street, and the Voice said "Will you accept salvation now, today?"
"Yes," he cried. "I will accept it today or die in the attempt."
Swiftly he turned about and instead of going to the office, walked north of Adams on the country road to a favorite tract of timber. The branches stood gaunt and naked against the fall sky, but he knew he could be alone. He confessed that he was so possessed with the fear of man that he skulked along the fence in order to be out of sight of the village, and penetrated into the woodland a quarter of a mile before he stopped. Every step he took he kept saying, "I will give my heart to God before I ever come out again."
At last he found a place where some large trees had fallen across each other, leaving an open space between. He knelt down to pray. But "his heart was dead to God." He just couldn't pray. He began to think of his rash promise to give his heart to God, and was overwhelmed with his inability to do it.
At this point, a gust of wind blew the coppered leaves about with a loud rustling, and he thought, "Someone is coming!" Up he jumped in a panic. Of course there was, no one. But he was overwhelmed with a sense of his wickedness in being ashamed to have- a human being see him on his knees before God. He broke down utterly and "began to cry at the top of his voice for mercy."
* * * *
At this point, another classic of the Twice Born was written. God gave him a text. "Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Afterwards he found this was Jeremiah 28:12-13, but he did not know it then. In fact he did not think he had ever read it. But he knew it was God's word, and he cried with all his might: "Lord I take Thee at Thy Word!"
At once a cavalcade of redemption texts like a company of angels marched through his soul. Hours passed over the kneeling form of the young man, until at last his soul "became so full he leaped to his feet, ran up the hill through the woods to the road: and walked to the village." And 10, the whole of the Autumn morning of October 10 had passed away: it was noon.
* * * *
He found himself so perfectly quiet in his mind that it seemed as if all nature listened. All sense of sin, all consciousness of guilt had departed: his repose of mind was unspeakably great. He went to the boarding house for dinner, but having no appetite, returned to the office. The Judge had gone to dinner, so Finney took down his bass-viol to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But he couldn't. "His heart was all liquid; he couldn't suppress his tears, s6 he put up the instrument."
After a while the judge came in, and the two moved the office furniture to the new location, as they had planned. By evening they got the books and furniture adjusted. A sharp cold wind was blowing in from the Lake, so Finney built a fire in the fireplace. Just at dark, the Judge went home for the night.
At once the young man's love toward God with glory flamed anew. His heart again seemed liquid. He rushed into the back room where there was no fire and no light. Nevertheless it appeared to him to be perfectly lighted. As he went in and shut the door, it seemed as if he met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. Jesus looked at him in such a manner that he wept like a child, and bathed His feet with his tears.
* * * *
After a long time he arose and returned to the front office and found the large oak logs he had put on the fire were burned out! Several hours had passed! And just at that instant, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a wave of electricity: "like waves of liquid love" he could feel the Spirit go through him, body and soul. It was like the breath of God. It seemed to fan him like immense wings.
* * * *
After a while he left the office, and went to his room in the boarding house. He soon fell asleep, but was almost as soon awake again from a great flow of the love of God in his heart. This continued over and over, waking and sleeping, until far into the night, when at last he fell into sound repose.
* * * *
It was late in the morning of October 11 when he awoke. The autumn sun was shining through his bedroom window, and pouring clear light into the room. This had a curious effect upon him. The glories of the night before immediately swept over him anew. He arose on his knees in bed, the room bright with autumn sunshine and poured out his soul to God.
Finally the Voice spoke again. This time He said, "Will you doubt? Can you doubt?"
The young man cried out, "No dear Lord. I will not doubt, I cannot doubt. I can never again doubt that by Thy grace I have given myself to Thee, and that Thou hast taken possession of my soul."
He dressed almost tremblingly by reason of the sustained flow of the love of Christ within him. At last he was ready. He put his hand on the latch to leave the room when suddenly the Voice spoke again: "Did you not promise something to Me in the forest yesterday?"
He dropped his hand from the latch. He remembered having said over and over in the travail of his soul on Wednesday, "If I am ever saved, I will preach the gospel." He now faced a supreme crisis: should he leave the legal profession? He remembered the days and hours of the past three years in which he had taken pains and spent much time in study. He noted how much success was attending his labors; clients were coming to the brilliant young attorney from every direction. He had already pleaded some spectacular cases with success. Should he now leave it all?
To his great surprise, he found he had no longer any desire to practice law: "everything in that direction seemed shut up." His whole mind was taken up with Jesus and His salvation. No labor could be put in competition with the worth of souls. No employment could be so sweet, no labor so exalted as that of holding up Christ to a dying world.
He therefore crossed the room to the bed, fell on his knees, and cried, "O Lord Jesus from this time on I am Thine, and Thine alone in the ministry of the Gospel. I accept Thy retainer to plead Thy cause from this time forth so long as life shall last."
He kneeled in prayer at mid-morning; it was nearly noon before he stepped into the street.
IV. LOG CABIN SEMINARY
It rarely happens that the Servants of God experience salvation and enduement with power at one and the same time. A gripping volume was once published telling how for long time men serve their King, not in the Power of the Spirit, but by Animal Heat. This book then sets forth how these men were given " a dreadful overhauling, and filled with the Spirit."
But now and then it comes to pass that there is a servant who receives both gifts together. It was so with the Heir of the Puritans. And it was so with our Man of Like Passions. On the very day of his salvation, there fell upon him a Baptism of glory, and his labors began at once with ten league strides. --Sketch Book.
LATE on the morning of Thursday, October 11, shortly after young Mr. Finney came to his office, his Senior Partner Wright arrived. (The firm was now "Wright and Finney.") With a glowing heart "Finney said a few words to Judge Wright on the subject of his salvation. Wright looked with astonishment.. made no reply; left the office. The remarks pierced him like a sword, and he did not recover until he was converted."
A few minutes after the Judge went out, Deacon So-and-so came in.
"Mr. Finney, (he said) my case is to be tried this morning. Are you ready?"
Finney said, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead His cause and I cannot plead yours." He then told the Deacon how he was saved, and his decision to become a minister, and repeated: "I cannot plead your cause; you must go and get somebody else."
The Deacon dropped his head, went out and stood in the middle of the road for half an hour, "lost in deep meditation." He then hurried away, found his opponent, settled the case out of court, "betook himself to prayer, and soon got into a much higher state than he had ever been in before."
These specimen incidents of the next few hours after Finney's salvation and infilling with the Spirit, set forth the power he exerted over individuals and congregations in the nine golden years which followed.
Many will read these pages with annoyance; the brethren who sidestep the necessity of a deeper experience by using a phraseological husk. Such will say upon every mention of empowerment for service, "That's all wrong! You get all you're going to get at once when you're converted. The entire gift of the Spirit is implicate with salvation." These Poor Strugglers may easily be accounted for in the language of Finney's Lydia, "I have not yet heard that they are dead, but I have never Heard of any revivals starting with them."
* * * *
You will read the Autobiography with the same sense of romance that the writer had when he read the copy borrowed from Walter Edgar Woodbury. Dr. Woodbury had marked the book profusely. You can read this copy and see the high points by reading the underscoring. After Finney looked at the old deacon rooted in the road, he closed the office door behind him, and went up and down the village street, "like a merchant, like a salesman searching for customers, conversing with any with whom he might meet."
Similar results took place in every interview. The "slain of the Lord" fell as if machine-gunned on the village streets. Pious frauds, young Unitarian smart alecs, booze-makers, the unsaved and the scoffers--it made no difference who they were, "a few words, spoken to an individual, would stick in his heart like an arrow."
* * * *
The burden of this little chapter is to portray the limited education of Finney for the ministry. During the three years which followed his deeper experience, he took theological studies under the pastor of the Adams First Presbyterian Church, Rev. George W. Gale. The Presbyterian officials made the arrangements in the Spring of 1822. But the work he did to prepare himself for the ministry was as elementary as his legal studies.
In the years that followed, he was continuously affirming that his enablement to preach did not come from man, but from God Himself. And furthermore, he discovered this enablement was given to mind and heart, immediately, when he was baptized with the Holy Ghost; like full grown palm trees transplanted to beautify a world's fair site. His wisdom was from above, and not communicated by an earthly teacher. He could truly say "the winning of souls he learned from Jesus, and not from man." He warmly affirmed that the power to preach a sermon from a given verse of the Bible, was given him directly while he was on his knees, by the Holy Spirit, and not from a course in Homiletics.
Furthermore, he came to his conclusions as to the laws of sermon building when he was learning how to make a speech for a jury. A famous old supreme court judge once said to him, "Charlie, you win a legal case by telling it simply; repeating as many times as there are men in the box. Tell it simply. And never read it! Have it so well in hand that you can look the jury in the eye, and see if you are moving them. If you are not, you will have to change your tactics so that you will move them."
Consequently, he seemed, like the character in mythology, to spring forth full grown from the outset, in the science of the preparation and delivery of sermons. He did not believe in writing his sermons, and even less writing and memorizing. He disdained all illustrations that were not homespun, stories of farm and forge. He esteemed classic references just a little short of folly. His practice was to meditate for hours upon a text and the best way of applying it, "until at last it went through him like a bolt of lightning." He made outlines, but never before he preached. He made the outlines after he preached, so that he would not forget the Spirit's revelation on a particular text the next time he used it.
The rank and file of Presbyterian ministers were shocked at his new methods. They said, "You will have to write. You will have to use classical illustrations. If you do not, your crowds will melt away."
Strangely, that never happened. Finney's "new methods which were simple Apostolic practices brought out and tried again" filled the largest buildings and kept them filled. And sometimes when Finney's "innovations" were competitive with meetings where old school preaching was in progress, the old school auditoriums were empty and Finney was preaching to S. R. O. There was the case of a three day mission in Andover, Mass., during the time the seminary was having commencement. The Seminary had to call off its exercises. "Only thirty people gathered to hear Dr. Justin Edwards and they were adjourned." Over at Finney's meeting there were already nearly three hundred preachers alone when the Andover handful came in.
He swiftly learned Common Sense in the School of Experience. The furious pace with which he began his soul winning, "was maintained for many days, until at last he found he must rest and sleep, or he should go insane." From that point, he was "more cautious in his labors, he ate regularly and slept as much as he could." This "holy gumption" as they call it in Dixie Land, marked Finney until August, 1875, when he died. Folks said, "Bro. Finney eats regular, and sleeps good." He began to appear at the law office again, but not for the practice of law. The office was a shooting lodge, and the game came in to him.
* * * *
There is no point, whatever, in going to great lengths about his studies under Pastor Gale. Whatever gain came to him, was chiefly by way of counter-irritation. Like the old woman who said, "She got good Gospel out of modernistic preaching. She always said 'Tain't so' whenever the minister made a statement, and it worked out just right." His studies under Mr. Gale "were little else than controversy."
* * * *
On December 30, 1823, he was grudgingly licensed to preach. On July 11, 1824, he was ordained at Evans Mills. But we must candidly add, "not without qualms on the part of the Presbytery, who eyed him as did the brethren of Joseph."
In broad brush strokes, he is thus brought to his first labors at Evans Mills, in his thirty-second year, 1824, very much of a raw pilgrim by almost any standard.
No one understood better than he the sharp limitations upon him. He could only hope, he wrote, in view of his lack of early training,"to go into new settlements and preach in school houses, and barns and groves, as best I could. Accordingly, soon after being licensed to preach, for the sake of being introduced to the regions where I proposed to labor, I took a commission for six months, from a female missionary society located in Oneida County. I went into the northern part of Jefferson County, and began my labors at Evans Mills, in the town of Le Roy."
It is easy, therefore, to sustain that the exploits in Finney's life which justify a sesquicentennial celebration were "done" when he was fresh from the Pioneer Rack, a Baruch in Buckskins. O, he was a man's man, his six-foot-two streamlined on the Apollos' model until his fifties, then broadened into the Atlas' lines for the burdens of later life. And that is not all. One who travels the Finney trail will find his emotions moved in the best Heigh-Ho Silver! manner. You listen to the ring of his axe in pioneer forests, watch him gracefully managing the sails of Ontario wind-jammers, hear the crack of his flint lock as he followed after Nimrod.
And what a way he had with ladies! Did not wedding bells ring in his life three times? The last occasion being in his seventy-second year when he married lithesome young Rebecca Rayl, "who survived him thirty years."
These pages, moreover, are sensitive to the high noon and evening glories of the last forty-three years of his life. Go to Oberlin; talk with the man in the street. You will hear about Finney the Builder, Finney the Executive, Finney the President, Finney the Pastor, Finney the Theologian. As a matter of fact, most of the speakers and writers will present the Christian Statesman who replaced the Pioneer Preacher, the final figure who by solid attainment held and deepened the prestige he earlier gained.
But the later excellencies do not furnish the primary theme for this book, nor the reason for Finney's high place in history. His splendor is derived from the Nine Mighty Years, 1824-1832, when he, as a Backwoods Promethius, brought down the Fires of God, and crashed the very gates of hell. It is amazing--as well as suggestive--that under the ministry of this man whose ordination would today be questioned, one of the greatest forward movements since Pentecost was achieved.
V. "IN DESTITUTE PLACES"
Now Deborah discretely let it be known that she wished to go to the city of Oberlin. "I have been everywhere with thee, save where once stood the Forest of Lorain." Thy servant replied, "Lo, it is one thousand miles out of the way." And she said, "How good it is not two thousand." So it came to pass on July 4, 1942, thy servant came again to Oberlin.
The matter was of Providence. There in an old file, a precious document was found which is herewith printed for the first time:"We the Committee of Missions for the Female Missionary Society of the Western District of New York appoint Mr. Charles G. Finney a Missionary to labor in the Northern part of the County of Jefferson, and such other destitute places in that vicinity as his discretion shall dictate, and we hereby recommend him to the kind cordiality of those for whose spiritual interests he undertakes this service of love.
This commission may extend to three months and perhaps we may then be able to give Mr. Finney another commission for a longer time as shall be judged proper.
(Signed) Electa King
Dated Utica, March 17, 1824."
BY the end of February, 1824, Finney had made up his mind as to the places he would begin his Gospel labors. In the law office he had often heard of Evans Mills, twenty-five miles northwest of Adams. This frontier village was notorious for godlessness and opposition to religion. In Antwerp, conditions were so bad that men called it "Hell's Acres." All religious services had been abandoned, the enmity against preachers was so great that they even took the wheels off their carriages. By the year 1823, "all meetings were relinquished."
These facts determined Finney. In early March therefore, he bade farewell to Judge Wright.
"I am going first," he said, "to Utica to get my missionary commission; then I'll ride the short way through the forests from Utica to Evans Mills and Antwerp." The next week, after receiving his commission in the home of Mrs. Kirkland, he rode northwest toward his first missionary labor. He was in a state of strange elation. In Utica, he met Miss Lydia Andrews, and he couldn't get her off his mind. Of that, this book will have much more to say in Chapter XVI.
It is a most favorable time at this point to note what kind of a man the young missionary was. Dr. R. V. Bingham of the Sudan Interior Mission kindly loaned a description of Finney by one of Finney's grandsons, William C. Cochran. Here comes Finney now, riding Dash through the forests. "He has a large head, symmetrically developed, and crowned with abundant light brown hair; his nose strongly aquiline. His eyes are large and blue, at times mild as an April sky, and at others as cold as polished steel." Your heart, though, is gripped by his run-down appearance. Three years of intensive reading of law, and three years of study in theology, have impaired his health. Now and then, as he rides, he coughs, and spits blood. It looks very serious, for him to begin work in those "destitute places."
Back in Adams, his friends are saying, "He can't live but a short time." And yet, a miracle of grace was soon to be experienced, of which more will be written in a few paragraphs.
* * * *
On the evening of March 22, 1824, the lone horseman arrived in Evans Mills. Someone facetiously said, "Evans Mills was the kind of a town where the train would have whistled had there been a railroad." Finney found there two churches, worshipping alternately in a large stone schoolhouse. One was a pastorless Congregational Church, the other a Baptist Church with a minister who preached every other Sunday. On the last Sunday in March, therefore, Finney preached at Evans Mills, and on the first Sunday in April at Antwerp. The second Sunday in April he was back in Evans Mills, and the third Sunday at Antwerp. He made the sixteen mile ride horseback each Saturday afternoon. By the fourth Sunday in April a powerful revival had broken J out in Evans Mills, and the revival came upon Antwerp the first Sunday in May.
* * * *
We must take a bit of time to see how these revivals started. On the alternate Sundays of March 27 and April 10, Finney preached in Evans Mills. "The people liked him and flattered his sermonizing." But on April 24, "his eyes swept the crowd like searchlights and his voice clear and strong could be heard rods beyond the schoolhouse." They made no response to his sermon-end invitation, whatever. 'Therefore, he shouted, "Then you are committed. You have taken your stand. You have rejected Christ and His Gospel."
The crowd stood up angrily and started en masse for the door. Finney stopped speaking under the stomp of boot-heels. When he stopped speaking for a moment, the crowd stopped walking. This gave him opportunity for a parting shot:
"I am sorry for you; and will preach for you once more, the Lord willing, tomorrow night."
The next day the town buzzed with profanity against Finney. They talked of tar and feathers, riding him on a rail. But the next night when Finney reached the schoolhouse, it was packed to suffocation. He began to preach as soon as he reached the teacher's desk, "without even an opening song! The Spirit of God came upon him with such power that it was like opening a battery upon them. He did not call for any reversal of action. He took it for granted that they were committed against the Lord." But he did appoint another meeting. The crowd was tremendously moved.
After the meeting he accepted an invitation to lodge with a family in the country, and, throughout the night, people under conviction rushed to the house where they thought he was, under "awful distress of mind." On Tuesday night the crowd jammed the schoolhouse again and the slain of the Lord were everywhere. He left Saturday afternoon to ride up to Antwerp and the citizens of Evans Mill were in an avalanche of revival power.
* * * *
When he preached his third Sunday in Antwerp, May 1, 1824, the events at Evans Mills were repeated.
He said to the crowd, "I have a kind of awful feeling when I come here, just as if I were on the borders of hell. The very atmosphere is poison. Everywhere I go there is nothing but the sound of men cursing and swearing and damning each other." Then he repeated the Evans Mills strategy. "Will you take Jesus?" (NO response). "Then you are committed. You have taken your stand. You have rejected Christ and His Gospel." He lifted his finger and pointed to certain prominent men and shouted. "Those men howl blasphemy on the streets like hell hounds. I heard you yesterday calling on God to damn each other. But I am sorry for you, and will preach for you once more, the Lord willing, this afternoon."
The afternoon meeting was not held in the schoolhouse but, in order to accommodate the crowd, in a big brick church which had been abandoned. It was packed. Finney wrote to Lydia, "Dear Miss Andrews, . . . the Lord let me loose upon them in a wonderful manner. It seemed as if I could rain hail and love upon them at the same time; or in other words, I could rain upon them hail, in love."
Lydia had occasion to note this phenomenon in future years. Once, after a service, she drew close to him and said, "O my dear, though I know you love, me, yet you are terrifying when the power of God comes upon you. You stand there like a mighty angel, shouting the Gospel and wielding the flashing sword of judgment."
* * * *
When the Nine Glorious Years began with the revivals at Evans Mills and Antwerp, he spent many hours each day calling on people under conviction, riding Dash from one town to the other, in ever widening circles through the forests to other communities, preaching night after night and often times afternoons. In many places where he preached during May and June, the people had never before sung religious hymns; they were destitute places indeed. When songs were announced "each one present bawled out in his own way: their horrible discords distressed him so much he had to put his hands over his ears."
The fires of revival spread in every direction. On July 11, the Presbytery grudgingly ordained him in the schoolhouse at Evans Mills. Throughout July, August and September, "he went from house to house, attended prayer meetings, preached and labored every day and night, preached, on an average, of nearly, or quite two hours, each time."
At the close of September he wrote to Lydia: "Dearest Lydia, I will see you October 9."
* * * *
When he arrived in Whitesboro, October 9, Lydia held him off arms' length. Then she wept, and convulsively threw her arms about him; drew down his face and kissed him.
"O Charles," she cried, "I've worried so much about you. But thanks be to God you're well!"
She held him off at arms' length again. There he was entirely restored in health, his lungs sound, able to preach twice every day for two hours, without the least exhaustion. Throughout the Nine Glorious Years after they were married, 1824-1832, she saw him in the midst of Continuous Pentecost, engaged in labors that would destroy men. But he like the Bush of the Desert was not consumed. The whole of Eastern United States was swept in the tempest of his power, and he never seemed fatigued.
Often she said to him as they went about from place to place, "O Charles, I used to be so distressed. I was afraid your labors would destroy you. But you seem to be refreshed in your work. It's an eternal mystery to me, for which I have but one explanation,Thy bow abides in strength, and the arms of thy hands are made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob."
VI. PAGES FROM PENTECOST
Now as we cruised about in Queen Elizabeth from Patrician Bar Harbor, wrapped in February ermine, to Back Bay, with lilacs in her hair, people kept saying, "Behold, Elias was here I Right in that very church.!"
Yea, we found some, ancient of days, who remembered him, and had heard his voice. There was one, who, forsaking the City of Cameras, abode in a cottage beneath the Cocos Plumosa of Pasadena. This Honored Saint, of the family called Strong, bore the given name, "Augustus Hopkins." (For many years, his Great Green Volume has been thy servant's final authority.) And, as if speaking of an ancient glory, the Saint of Rochester said, "O that men today might know the tales of that Mighty Saga, 1824-1832. Behold, Jesus came into my heart under Finney's Voice. The few who are offended at Solomon's Song have never influenced me. I esteem the book inspired of God, ever since as a youth, I heard Finney say, 'This Song has wedded my soul to Jesus,' " --Sketch Book.
THY servant is betimes impatient with that part of The Lex Scribendi wherein men with ink horns are enjoined from over-attention to fascinating detail. Only one consideration holds him back from the stark rebellion of filling a basket full of pages with literary angle shots,-Folks will not read such a book. Happily, though, a sensible dash of incident is always in order; just enough, even a suspicion of too little, aids mightily in fixing a warm impression that the hero, after all, Was a very grand person. Therefore, the Book of Finney's Pentecost shall furnish a discreet sprinkle of pages, like Browning's spurt of acid, to fix the gold.
* * * *
Take the case of one Theodore Dwight Weld. He was "a parsonage son," born in the Green Mountain home of Rev. Ludocius Weld, November 23, 1803. Now, Theodore was a Finney man. Not at the first, however. Young Weld, twenty-one, was a Hamilton College student when Finney brought the fires of revival to Utica. "Weld's opposition was greatly aroused and he became outrageous in his talk."
One Sunday he brought some student friends down to Utica to show that Finney could not move him; he was a Christian, but not of the harum-scarum Finney brood . . .
When he got into the pew of the church, his Aunt got in right after, and every time Finney became "too hot" for Weld, his Aunt leaned over to pray. So he could not escape. The next day he gave Finney a tongue lashing on the street; and later in the evening, when his Aunt asked him to pray, he spouted a blasphemous prayer against Finney, "until the lamp went out."
But the prayer did for him. His Aunt found him prone on the bed-room floor next morning, calling himself "a thousand fools." That day, he made a humble, earnest, broken-hearted confession. And here was the beginning of another John the Baptist, Abolitionist, Tee-tot-lar, and Soul Winner. Men in his day said, "He is as eloquent as an angel, and as powerful as thunder." One night he visited the pretentious "country" home of Arthur Tappan in the Upper Twenties of New York City. (Just about the location of the big building where Walter E. Woodbury takes an elevator to his high-up office.) They stood looking in silence at Spencer's portrait of Finney. At last Tappan said, "Weld, he loves you, and you're a trophy of his ministry. The portrait is yours." And thus we have today, our young Isaiah of the book jacket.
* * * *
Then, there is the story of John Jay Shipherd, co-founder of Oberlin College, born May 28, 1802, at Granville, New York, and "departing this life a young man, September 16, 1844." He had all the mysticism of Nathaniel, and spent much time beneath the same shielding Fig Tree. When he was seventeen, he said to Zebulon R. Shipherd, a famous attorney, "Father, I have set my heart to be a Gospel minister." The elder Shipherd made no other response than to embrace him, for he was a strange lad.
Later, when Finney was holding a revival in Stephentown, New York, in full sight of the Taconics, the elder Shipherd took the younger up from Albany to attend the meetings. In these meetings, men were so overpowered with conviction that they could not leave their seats. But the most deeply impressed was the sensitive young man, John Shipherd. He and his friend of Pawlet Academy days in Vermont, Philo Stewart, made missionary vows similar to those of the Hay Stack group.
They set their faces West. When they rode horseback through Rochester in 1830, Finney was in a great revival. They sat through a service, and that night in Finney's room, their hearts burned within them as the great man gave his blessing to their dreams. Within three years, Shipherd and Stewart had secured a tract of virgin forest in Lorain County, Ohio, "to found a Christian colony and manual labor school far from the polluting influences of established communities." And they called the place "Oberlin," after the great Alsatian Mystic whom they loved.
It is likely, now, you will better understand when you see the Historic Elm on the southeast corner of the Oberlin Campus. The text on the iron fence by the tree is as follows:Historic Elm
Near This Tree
Were Laid for the
First Dwelling in
April 16, 1833
A few months later, when the rebel students were leaving Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Shipherd rushed by the fastest means at his disposal,--sailboat and stage coach, to New York City to get "Brother Finney to come to Oberlin, take these students and start a seminary."
* * * *
Then (please just one more) the case of the Tappan boys, Arthur and Lewis: wealthy pioneer silk-jobbers, born just a little after the Revolutionary War. Lewis was a Unitarian and conducted business in Boston; Arthur was a "very earnest, orthodox, New York layman." When Finney began his Nine Year Stride, the Unitarians of Boston "got excited for once in their lives," and branded Finney a half crazed fanatic. One day Lewis went down to New York, and among other subjects, talked over with Arthur, was Finney. Lewis said, "He's sure the crack-pot: over in Boston he is saying, 'I am Christ's brigadier general.'"
Arthur said, "Nonsense: I don't believe it."
"My own pastor told me," Lewis replied, "and I'll bet you five hundred dollars it's true."
"I never bet," said Arthur, "but, I'll give you five hundred dollars to pay the expenses of proving it."
Lewis contacted Rev. Whatta Head, pastor First Unitarian Church of Trenton Falls, New York, and authorized him to spend five hundred dollars to get the evidence. Poor Brother Head got no more than an ache out of his labor; one statement published in a Buffalo Universalist paper was his only evidence; so the case flattened.
This took the fire from Lewis' opposition; so much so that he was converted, and later shared with his brother in putting Lyman Beecher at the head of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, and later still in herding the Lane theological rebels up to Oberlin, "so they could be under Brother Finney." The pair put thousands of dollars into early evangelical faith.
* * * *
Time fails to tell of powerful Finney meetings all over Eastern United States in those Nine Great Years. The world turned upside down, indeed, and American cities flared up like fire points. Gouveneur! Rome! Utica! Auburn! Troy! Wilmington and Philadelphia!
Then--Boston! Yes sir, believe it or not, Boston! Some Hub Cityman well said, "The of tier their elevation, the greater the violence f their deflation." So, the City of the Cabots flocked down to the Park Street Church, just two hundred feet from where J. Elwin Wright has his office. Wright would be glad to tell more of this story. And so would like-minded young Elder H. J. Ockenga, who now shepherds the Park Street Flock.
* * * *
Finally--New York! Finney, you must remember always liked New York. There was such interest in Gotham that the big crowd which gathered in an old rented church building, formed a church of their own, and bought a Brown Stone near Broadway where a Universalist Congregation had gone Ichabod. Yes, he liked New York.
* * * *
We must close the book of Finney's Pentecost, a regrettable haste in dealing with a movement wherein one man, under God, brought five hundred thousand souls to Light! But if you are displeased with this Aberdeen Review, get the book itself,-- The Autobiography.
Just at the close of the Nine Glorious Years, 1830-1831, Finney conducted an epoch-making revival in Rochester, N. Y. President Augustus H. Strong, whose father was saved in this revival, as was he himself in a later Finney revival, wrote:"The place was shaken to its foundations; 1200 persons united with the churches of the Rochester Presbytery; all the leading lawyers, physicians, and business men became Christians; forty of the converts entered the ministry; the whole character of the town was changed."
As a result of Rochester, revivals broke out in 1500 towns and villages. The ten years that followed are the greatest in the history of the several denominations. We should recognize of course that Finney's revivals were a part of the Great Revival from 1797 to 1842. But Finney was the chief figure in these mighty movements.
Before his time, there was a general break-down in Christian faith. The Methodists in three years, 1793-1795, lost 11,600 members. It looked so bad for the churches that Thomas Paine, whom American Presidents sometimes quote, wrote his "Infidel's Bible," declaring that he would tear down in a single generation what it took the Church eighteen centuries to build up.
Did the Infidel make good in his boast? Well, hardly. He overlooked the power of God in the Gospel preaching of the Great Revival. From 1800 to 1830 the Presbyterian Church increased from 40,000 to 173,329, or fourfold; the Baptist Churches increased from 100,000 to 313,138, or threefold; the Methodist Church from 64,000 to 476,153 or fourfold; and other churches in the same ratio. By 1850, the Presbyterian had increased to 487,691, Baptists to 815,212, Methodists to 1,323,631.
In the midst of these years, also, great religious organizations were born; foreign and home societies, Bible and tract societies, organized Sunday school movements, young people's societies, war nursing, laymen in missions, and a deeper interest in holy living.
Instead of the Church failing as blatant Paine predicted, it entered its most aggressive period since Pentecost. And our Man of Like Passions, Charles Grandison Finney, not only belonged to this victorious movement, but he was facile princeps.
VII. "FINAL CONCLUSIONS"
THE years of our lives confirm so repeatedly certain things that at last entire areas are condensed into simple convictions. For instance, we find ourselves, or those whom we know, often times in peril of want; but nothing really comes of it. At last we smile and say, "I have been young but now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." Likewise, storms we once feared, we now meet with an umbrella and a good pair of rubbers.
Similarly, we are brought to see that the movements of Him with Whom we have to do, are not boxed up in limited spaces, or times. The same moral sanctions that are set for Washington were meant for Tokio. And the precise course which crowned young Daniel two thousand years ago, is the one ordained to bless young chaps of the Junior Colleges today.
It is no matter of surprise, then, to note that a thousand and one demonstrations, brought to the man of Warren a cherished list of final conclusions.
IN the vast detail of those Nine Great Years, 1824-1832, Finney observed underlying principles running throughout. Separate incidents were of the widest possible variety, but all, like the stars in their courses, served to indicate established laws. One by one, simple conclusions began to take permanent hold upon his heart. When he announced these conclusions, they appeared debatable. But such unfortunates as did resort to debate were met by the fiery affirmations of a man who was not guessing, or even hoping. He knew. He knew whom he believed, and was persuaded God would forever continue to act in accordance with the same irrefragable rules that Finney observed in the Nine Years.
* * * *
For one thing, he noted that he was not a trained man when he began: but the Fire burned. He gradually became a polished shaft, for which he was glad; and the Fire burned.The glory of God therefore does not halt because of one's early limitations, nor does it continue by reason of his later growth. Give God the glory I power belongeth unto Him!
It all sounded like his cherished text, "Elias was a man of like passions, but .. !"
* * * *
His soul stood amazed, moreover, at the swift changes which revivals wrought upon communities wherein "both church and sinners were dead." When the power of God descended, Spring came with it. And that, too, reminded him, "The heaven gave rain, and--the earth brought forth her fruit." Hereupon another entry was written into his revival creed,When the Power falls, the earth cannot help itself. Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, and His pleasant fruits appear! Where now is the sense of trying to reform a naughty age? Just bring a revival: and a revival produces on eagle's wings what man's striving always misses.
* * * *
Furthermore, evidence in point appeared so abundantly that a sterling conclusion was justified;
Heaven is always ready, yea anxious, to send revivals. There is no need for fallow years. Let Elias pray again, and the heaven gives rain,--AGAIN.
* * * *
But the feature which was Bitter-Sweet in his own heart came repeatedly in those Nine Years. If the power of God slackened a bit, he suspected it was his own fault. Thereupon in tears of penitence and self-abasement he searched his heart for sin; and every time he did so the Flame revived. This made his eyes open and attent unto the prayer made in this place. Turn from thy wicked way! God will hear from heaven! The land will be healed! This put another item into his revival creed,--The chief enemy against a revival, is sin in the heart of Elias.
It is well therefore for Elias to keep humble, pray without ceasing over his like passions; for "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
* * * *
Then suddenly, in the midst of this revival glory, ill health struck at the mantle of Elias upon his shoulders, and it did not appear he could ever put it on again. These are times of which few men ever make a record: and most of the few who do, never confide the pages save to a limited group, under choice circumstances. So, there is little record of Finney's heart-break to be found. His working faith esteemed his own disappointments, in view of the eternal glory, as lighter than the dust of the balance. But those of us who have walked through the same Little Red Hell can fill in the story. It is the same story with all of us. You catch the sob of it in the historian whose hand stopped at the third chapter, "0 God, my book! my book!" And in the night watches, Finney wept. A great door was behind him, not opening, but closing.
VIII. RED SEA BARRIER
"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient shall be thy supply:
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine." Rippon.
IN the City of Boston, he realized that the chariot wheels were off; "he was utterly fatigued: nine years seemed to have burned him to a cinder." Here he was, less than forty years of age, broken and set aside. Right at this point a man's Deborah always exhibits her full glory. She is cherished as a companion, adored by reason of her loveliness; but when the heavy shadows fall, she seems altogether an angel. And thus one day as he sat with bowed head, he felt the hand of Lydia upon his shoulder and heard her voice, "My dear, He will never leave us nor forsake us: and my heart bears witness that your best is yet to come." A great burden fell from his shoulders. He had come to put more stock in Lydia's affirmations than in his own deliberate opinions.
With a sense of release he therefore accepted the invitation of a Boston Church to become their "stated supply." It did seem to be a come-down after those Great Nine Years: but the words of Lydia held him up, "Your best is yet to come!"
* * * *
A short time later, he was called to the pastorate of the Second Free Presbyterian Church in New York City. Yes, he liked New York. The official board of the Church had secured an old theatre on Chatham Street, remodeled it while the closing shows were in progress, and Finney began his Knickerbocker pastorate, April 29, 1832. Little Old New York at once went Finney, the three galleries and orchestra of the theatre thronged with worshippers.
* * * *
Soon after he began in New York, two important considerations arose. In the first place a group of men decided "to build a tabernacle in Broadway and invite Finney to be pastor." He was ready for this. The theatre was a miserable building: he wanted a church of his own. But he did not care for an edifice like so many of them, -- monuments to architects; buildings very fine but for two exceptions, --you couldn't see and you couldn't hear. He therefore sketched a design for the new auditorium "to be most commodious, and comfortable to speak in."
Mr. Archi Tect, Cathedral Builder, violently objected: "It will never look well! It will ruin my reputation as an architect!" And Mr. Finney, who had a way with architects from New York to Oberlin said, "That's how it's going to be: and if you will not build it that way, we'll find another man." Finney naively adds, "It was finally built in accordance with my ideas."
* * * *
In the second place, these men "wanted the new Church formed, Congregational." On that point he was also quite ready. The Third Presbytery of New York had so overlorded the management of the Chatham Street Church, that when the Tabernacle was completed, Finney took his dismission from the Presbytery to become a Congregational pastor, not because he sought the warmth of Congregational orthodoxy, but because he craved the elbow room of Congregational democracy.
* * * *
But even the comparative ease of a city pastorate did not permit Finney to escape his breakdown. In the dead of winter, January, 1834, he was compelled to lay down the work, and take an ocean voyage. He left New York harbor on a small brig, Europe bound. For six months he cruised about the Mediterranean, going ashore at times for several weeks at such places as Malta and Sicily.
The vacation, however, was a failure: "He was very uncomfortable on the whole, and not much helped." The trip was filled with rough incident, the flavor of which is specimened herein: Once in Mare Nostrum, the ship captain was so drunk that Finney's early skill in sailing Ontario wind jammers came into use, the preacher had to run the boat all day!
By June 1, he had enough of it. Mauling depressions overwhelmed him: his own bodily weariness, the unusually severe sea-winter, the church at home. The tiny brig, therefore was headed west again, through the Straits of Gibraltar and past the gray Azores. One July day in mid-Atlantic the full fury of soul-storm blew upon him. Nothing in nature ever matches that, as all of us know, who have sailed those black waters.
In his anguish he paced his stateroom and the deck. His heart sobbed out, "O God, my God, revival power is dying in America. Who is to lead in another awakening?" He remembered the days in which his own voice had broken men's hearts like a sledge hammer. But reason said, "Your time for this has passed." He wept; "his own health was quite broken down."
For hours he thus paced deck and stateroom, mid-summer sun and lobelia blue Atlantic seeming darker than February gales. In the midst of his heart-break came a deeper anguish, --his own sense of sinfulness.
What had he been doing? Not a thing so far as human standards would indicate. A sense of sin for a life like his would cause most men to sneer. However, the Esaus of the earth are not troubled by sin unless it is raw and red: while the Pauls tremble at mere shadows. Yet, in the mystery of God, the Pauls of the Church, sobbing over personal sins that seem light as gossimer, are at last Enabled to move empires off their hinges and set them in better eras.
As the day of his anguish was ending, the sun-down red went off the ocean, the stars appeared, and the Spirit of prayer came upon him. A Voice said, "Thou art to prevail despite all thy sinfulness!"
The whole subject cleared in his mind! The Spirit led him to see all would come out right! The Lord would go forward in His work; revivals were never to cease. God had always used them in His dealings with men. And it was too near age-end for Him to change His way. There would be no difficulty as the years went by in finding men. All He needed was others of a kind with like-passioned Elias.
For this sweet assurance his heart wept for joy. God be praised: there would always be men! God need not be handicapped by the breakdown of His servants,-not even Finney. "This brought to him a quiet rest." Then just as resignation settled upon him, the strangest revelation of all came; it was that he, Finney, was yet to have a part in revivals, as God desired.
But how was he to have a part? He could never again recover the seven league stride of the Nine Golden Years. How could he take a part? But his soul rested in quiet faith. He had not the least idea what that part was to be: but he was certain there was a part. And Lydia, whose voice had a singular way of getting mixed up with the voice of God said, "My dear, your best is yet to come." How do these women God giveth receive such certain intimations of His purpose? It may be that here is the high reason for the companionship which He established at Eden; wives and mothers seem to listen best when men in anguish can no longer hear.
IX. RED SEA HIGHWAY
ONE has only to regard the lives of the King's servants to be convinced that they are inviolable and invulnerable until their work is done. No weapon formed against them shall prosper. It is the pageantry of Heaven to build Victory Ways not around, but right through their Red Sea Places. --Sketch Book
WHEN the sails rattled down as the boat docked at Battery Point, Arthur Tappan came aboard with heavy tidings. The new Broadway Tabernacle had been gutted by fire just as it neared completion. Some one had started a report in feverish New York that the new institution was to be "a Nigger-White Church." This caused such excitement that some one set the building on fire. But "the firemen were in such a state of mind that they refused to put it out, and left the interior and the roof to be consumed."
There was nothing for it but to return to preaching in the stuffy Chatham Street Theatre for another year. The doctors did not think it wise for the sick man to endure the heat of New York's summer, so he went to the cool uplands of Connecticut. There God continuously seemed to say to him; "Revivals are never to cease: God has men. Any man under God is able. Remember Elias! But best of all he, Finney, sick as he was, was yet to have a part."
When Fall arrived he returned to the Chatham Street Pulpit. The crowds also returned. It was joyous to be with his people again, but --what was the part? Well, he could wait on God.
One day Joshua Leavitt rushed into the church office, extended his long arms and cried "I have ruined the Evangelist! Unless you can help, we must discontinue publication January 1."
* * * *
Certainly that did not look as if God were yet ready. The New York Evangelist had been launched in 1834 to champion the cause of revivals. Not a friendly journal had existed. Not only did the gad-fly "New York Observer" keep up an incessant anti-revival buzzing, but its editors closed their columns to all replies against their misrepresentations. Evangelical faith had to have a journal, therefore the Evangelist. And now the editor, Rev. Joshua Leavitt "had all but wrecked the new paper through too much espousal of the cause of the slave." A fresh burden fell upon the broken man: "Unless you can help, we must discontinue publication January 1."
* * * *
Throughout the night, wagons and' phaetons rattled over the cobbles in the Street of Three Story Bricks. Every hub and axle seemed to chuckle, "Dis-con-tinue Pub-li-cation"! Finney prayed in his upper study; "Father I know I'm to have a part. But the shadows deepen. I must abide in Thee. No resting place in all the world now, save in Thee."
Then of a sudden to his own surprise, the waters of the Red Sea opened right before him. Why, here was his part in revivals! Was not the Evangelist established for championing revivals? Praise God, he could lecture about revivals, and the paper could report the lectures! Wouldn't new subscribers be secured to read those lectures? Even if he could no longer be Mr. Evangel, fiery in the field, he could at least be Mr. Interpreter, and inspire a thousand others to take his place. He could commit to others his own fiery convictions which came during the Nine Great Years! "Revivals will never die! All God needs is ordinary men to light the fires,--just as he was when he started out to preach in barns and groves!"
Though Finney could not know the intimate details, the best years of his life opened before him. Out there lay the cloistered woodlands of Oberlin. And in these woodlands he was to kindle a thousand other lights for God.
But he did have a sense of being led with a Mighty Hand as he began "Revival Lectures" on Friday nights in the Fall of 1834.
X. THE BETTER PART
"IN England and Scotland I have often been refreshed by meeting with ministers and laymen in great numbers, that have been converted directly or indirectly, through the instrumentality of these lectures. Men in college, got hold of these lectures which resulted in their becoming ministers. They, (the Lectures) resulted in revivals of religion in multitudes of places. Thus God did do something to forward the work of revivals, and enabled me to take a course in it!" Autobiography.
JOSHUA LEAVITT was deeply stirred by the possibility of saving the New York Evangelist through the publication of Finney's Friday night lectures on revivals. The Evangelist, by this time, had become a one man affair: whenever the janitor was working, the editor was out. There was no money to hire a stenographer, and Mr. Finney did not have time to write; therefore Leavitt said, "I will have to report the lectures myself!"
Finney talked it over with Lydia: "The man doesn't understand a stroke of shorthand, and you know how fast I talk."
"And how long," Lydia laughed.
Finney was too serious to parry the quip; besides he had heard much like it. Folks even in New York were saying, "They're a lovable couple: he furnishes the serious, she the sunshine."
"But how is it to come out?" Finney fretted. And, Lydia, daughter of Eve that she was, clung to her main thesis; "Never mind Charles: it will come out. God has a part for you."
* * * *
Afterwards, when the enterprise had succeeded, he enthusiastically reviewed it for his wife, just as every other of the sons of Adam has done.
"Lydia, I can never forget poor Joshua there in the left hand box, looking distracted, putting down all he could catch and report, taking notes, abridging in such a way as to understand them himself. And you know, Lydia, I took an hour and three quarters to deliver each lecture."
"I have seen Joshua Saturday mornings working in his little pigeon hole office, filling out his notes, rushing them to press. And what he wrote required only thirty minutes to read!"
(Lydia thought that was splendid.)
"You know, I never even saw his reports until I read them in the Evangelist. Yet, see how they were blessed."
Lydia had noticed that too. She felt very certain that when God guided, editors could be as much inspired in reporting as speakers in delivery.
* * * *
The seal of God was manifestly upon Leavitt's reports, even as upon Finney's deliveries. Finney saw this and had the wisdom to let the reports stand, just as they were, in subsequent book editions; in those jerky, catch-as-catch-can sentences of Joshua Leavitt. That is just the way they are today, in the book you are going to buy,--or ought to. No change, excepting for minor corrections.
* * * *
On Friday evenings during the Fall and Winter of 1834-1835, Finney paced the room behind the stage of the Chatham Street Theatre, New York. He just couldn't keep the tears back. He could scarcely wait the time of his speaking. Out of the Nine Golden Years marched a host of memories that produced, proved, and then illumined his great convictions about revivals. These convictions were now the framework of his thinking, and his soul burned to tell others. Furthermore, he knew, as every man has a strange way of knowing, that his work, whether it be sermon, book, picture or blue print, had the fire of God upon it.
When at last, he came out on the stage and sat waiting "with a Bible and a Confirming Puritan in his lap" there was something exalted about him. He looked like a prophet, like young Isaiah! Arthur Tappan was impressed by this, and arranged the commission for the painting of the portrait which is the frontispiece of this book.
* * * *
The first issues of the New York Evangelist carrying the lecture reports changed the fortunes of the paper. One day Leavitt rushed in, with his long arms outstretched, and cried, "Brother Finney, this is how many subscriptions I'm getting every day." A flurry of letters began to arrive in New York, telling of revivals being kindled all over America, over Wales, and Scotland and England through reading the lectures. Leavitt took the galley leads, printed them in book form, and, a Best Seller was Born.
All this was attended by a sense of deep humility and gratitude on Finney's part; "he was often refreshed." His mind, going back to the story of Elias, observed something which he had hitherto overlooked. There it was on the pages, plain as day. Elias' greatest work was accomplished, not when he bowled over false priests and put rulers in their places. It was when he stopped to minister unto Elisha, entreating, "Let a double portion of thy Spirit fall on me!" Maybe that was just what God had intimated during the July day in mid-Atlantic when Finney was brought to feel he was to have a part. His larger work was to be The Ministry of Committal, whereby he was to teach faithful men, who would be able to teach others also.
* * * *
If it is possible for "a saint being dead" to behold the fruit of his former speaking, then our Elias must rejoice in a sequence of old-fashioned revivals that moved across the next seventy-five years; old-fashioned revivals, given by God for the healing of nations, and delivered by humble men, whose hearts were moved upon by Revival Lectures.
He cannot help seeing also that Revival Lectures have yet a part in the Springtimes of tomorrow. It seems inevitable that every prophet of Grace who will take time to read this strange book will come to a transforming experience.
Especially if he will read, on his knees as it were, the first seven chapters. Herein is the Pearl of Great Price for revival hungry men. To be sure, all twenty-two chapters have upon them the dew of heaven; but the first seven uncover the Hiding of Power. Was not the Great Diamond found in a matrix no larger than a geode?
There, in those seven chapters, tomorrow's Elishas shall find the mind of God upon the trinity of revival secrets,The Power of Revivals,
The Nature of Revivals, and
The Price of Revivals.
XI. THE POWER OF REVIVALS
WHEN the next great awaking comes, the ghastly spirits of lawlessness, unbelief, immorality, divorce, corruption, mammon, tyranny and selfishness, which now eat at the life of the world, will die as if smitten by a plague. Law, education, culture, science, ethics have failed. But one hope remains,-a mighty revival of Christian faith. Austin Phelps never penetrated more deeply into the ways of God than when he said, "If the secret connection of revivals with the destiny of nations be disclosed, they would appear more critical evolutions of history than the Gothic invasions."
AND thus it cometh to pass that thy servant has before him, here in the little Canadian study, the portrait of Elias as he sat waiting to speak, looking like a prophet, like young Isaiah. It is no matter of surprise that the Ontario scene, with the roar of R. C. A. F. bombers overhead fades away.
* * * *
Bless my heart we're in another world! Back in little old New York of 1834; back in a barn-like theatre, with a ginger-bread auditorium, an orchestra floor and three galleries, ill smelling and gas-lit. The prophet is speaking. Quickly now, as in the fashion of Joshua Leavitt, let us put down what he is saying! How rapidly he speaks! His words rush out like a fountain. One can't get it all down, but he can get enough.He starts by affirming that revivals are indispensable. He has no patience with his contemporaries, (whose descendants are found in many modem churches) who are "opposed to revivals," and say, "Mass evangelism is gone!"
"What would such put in the place of revivals? (he cries.) Such must feel advanced above God, for in the Old and the New Testament God never deals with His people in any other way."
"Such persons say, 'A continuous process in the church will do it.' It never worked and never will. Without revivals, Christians sleep a greater part of the time, once in a while wake up, rub their eyes, vociferate loudly, then go to sleep again. Even missions cannot make progress without revivals. The attempt is made to do it by education and other cautious improvements, but it cannot be done that way."
And here is his homespun philosophy on the point, "God has found it necessary to take advantage of the excitability there is in mankind to produce powerful excitements among them, before He can lead them to obey. Excited feelings are not religion . . . but they do raise those counter feelings and desires necessary to break the power of carnal desire and leave the soul free to obey God."
"Even Christians need revivals of religion to break the power of sin and the world over them. Thereupon God uses renewed Christians to move the world of sinners. Isn't that what David said?'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.' "
"When Christians are finally aroused, harlots and drunkards and infidels are awakened and converted. The worst among human beings are softened and reclaimed and made to appear as lovely specimens of holiness."
* * * *
"As a matter of fact, the church will do no real good without revivals of religion. Build a splendid new house of worship, line its seats with damask, get an unconverted musical set-up, make a big show. No good comes of it I Unless Christians themselves are revived, the world will laugh at the Church."
* * * *
The cry of the newsboy, "Extra!" brings me back from the dream of more than a' hundred years ago. The world now is in far more critical shape than it was in the year 1834. What is to be done about it? The calm assurance of Spencer's Young Isaiah, there on the desk, reveals the living hope. God constantly ministered unto fallen and beleagured Israel by means of revivals; and it is unthinkable that He, having always prefaced His national deliveries thereby, should now change His method. If civilization survives there must be -- Another Great Awakening.
XII. THE NATURE OF REVIVALS
It is high time for us to awake from the sleep into which we have fallen; a drowsy indifference resulting from much listening to a pair of noisome fellows. One, who hates the supernatural, cries, "Revivals are gone!" And another, who speaks just like the first, says the same thing, "Revivals are gone!" The latter is a pestilent chap, who makes- dispensations of commas, and hangs the universe on the horns of a Greek rough-breathing. But they both speak alike. Let us get away from the sound of their voices, and start back to sanity with the Saint of Oberlin. Sketch Book.
WELL, here we are again in the Chatham Street Theatre! Outside, November is roaring an early gale over the tip of Manhattan; but see the folks, clear up to the third gallery! Wonderful how they come,-But quickly now! Pencil ready! Young Isaiah's fountain of words has started,-"What is a revival? (he asks. Put down that simple statement.) A revival is a renewal of First Love among Christians, and the awakening and conversion of sinners."
(This definition will be a rock-in-the-shoe for the brethren of the Tweedle Dee School: those meticulous souls who say "A revival is a movement in the Church." Why clutter the mind with such puff-ball discriminations? Stop feeling embarrassed if this hair-splitting is too subtle for you. Forget it! A revival is the same thing in a church, or out of it. Just listen to him.) "A revival in a community is the rousing, quickening and reclaiming of the more or less back-slidden church, and the consequent more or less general awakening of all classes, insuring attention to the things of God."
* * * *"But, (he shouts now) a revival in the world is always conditioned upon a revival in the Church. The renewal of the image of Christ Jesus in Christians is God's natural, and so we know, God's exclusive means for the conviction and conversion of sinners. The first powerful action upon lost men is the looks, the earnestness and the daily deportment among Christians."
"If Christians have deep feeling on religion, they will produce deep feeling wherever they go,-and conversely! "
"See that impenitent man there, who has a pious wife? Her very looks, her tenderness, her solemn compassionate dignity, softened and molded into the image of Christ, are a sermon to him all the time. He has to turn his mind away, because it is such a reproach."
(On the other hand.)
"I knew an individual once who was very anxious, but one day I was grieved to find her convictions seemed to be all gone. She had spent an afternoon with some Christians who were cold, light, and trifling."
* * * *
And he insists to the dismay of some of his hearers that "A revival is not a miracle!" He is frankly amused by people who intercede for hours that God will "send a revival down." He likewise laughs at their children who paralyse effort by chanting--'You can't get a
You have to pray
He is saying to all such today, "Listen, that's an old rusty heresy I first met among the saw logs at Evans Mills. The truth is, you absolutely can get a revival up. That's the only way they come.
A revival is not a miracle: a revival is the work of man, nothing else!"
"A revival is not a miracle (he insists) any more than sowing and reaping are miracles. A miracle is generally defined to be an interference, or setting aside, or suspending the laws of nature . . . something above the laws of nature. Well, that idea misses the character of a revival."
"A revival is the work of man, just that. It is produced simply and entirely by Christians obeying the will of God, and rightly using God's laws, exactly as in producing a crop of grain. The production of a crop is assuredly dependent on the blessing of God; but it is not a miracle in the sense that it sets aside the laws of nature. Likewise a revival is just as much the result of using appropriate means as a crop is the result of using appropriate means."
"Yet, to this day, people act as if the promoting of a revival has something peculiar about it, and not to be judged by the ordinary rules of cause and effect. Would you intreat God to get willing to save a man? Of course not! Just as soon as any man, anywhere, repents and takes Christ Jesus as Saviour, God saves him without further to-do. And revivals are to be promoted by Christians anytime, anywhere, when they use the means God has appointed."
* * * *
"Remember, revivals are the work of man. You of the Pray-It-Down-Persuasion, suppose you go out among farmers and tell them, 'God is a Sovereign, and will give you a crop only when it pleases Him. For you to plow and plant is very wrong: it takes the work out of the hands of God.'"
"If the farmers believed you, they would starve the world to death. But fanners can't be fooled, as some in the Church are, with the result that generation after generation goes down to hell. No doctrine is more dangerous to the prosperity of the Church than that revivals are inscrutable miracles, and nothing is more absurd. Religion is the work of man."
* * * *
"And, because revivals are as much subject to law as crops, revivals need not be capricious in their time of appearing, any more than crops are."
"Once it was supposed you could have a revival every fifteen years. Then the time got shortened to five years. But a certain minister got so worried over the Five Year Plan, that the next year after he had had a revival in his church, he spent a Saturday night pencilling out a table as to how many adults in his community would lodge in hell under the Five Year Plan."
"This table he presented Sunday morning with horrible concern. Naturally, he did not expect a revival. He had four years to go. But, forty heads of families were saved in that service. A powerful revival followed and -his Five Year Theory exploded!"
"Definitely, revivals are not miracles! If revivals are miracles unpredictable and uncaused, then it would be as great folly to say, 'Unless there is a revival there will be a judgment,' as to say, 'Unless there is a thunder storm there will be a judgment.'"
* * * *
Well that lecture got under the skin, didn't it? But isn't it remarkable how normal he makes the subject appear! Just think of it! Starting a revival is just like planting a crop; the same natural, matter of fact procedure as when you put in your Winter wheat. Good going!
I'm sure coming back to Chatham Street next Friday evening!
XIII. THE PRICE OF REVIVALS
Behold, all the evidence has been submitted necessary to prove that revivals begin any time, anywhere, when God's people pay the price. In the hearts of Christians must reappear the beauty of First Love, and that old-fashioned concern which weeps o'er the erring one, lifts up the fallen. Sketch. Book.
WATCH the crowds coming in! Wonderful isn't it, the way you get divine heartburn from listening to that young Dominie. There he is again! Sort of feel a revival starting right now,--Quickly, Young Isaiah is beginning and you know how fast he speaks,--"Man has a part to perform in bringing a fresh impulse toward heaven. When man performs his part, God will perform His.
What is that part?
Well,--IT ISN'T PRAYER!"
* * * *(Look around, --everyone is just as amazed as you are.)
(When we recover from the shock of that wholesome bit of heresy, we are prepared to listen to Finney's common sense. Somewhere along the line, since Finney has gone home to be with Christ, the descendants of Cornelius have fallen down at his feet and cried, "He prayed down revivals." Finney's Revival lectures would take all such up, saying, "Stand up! I myself also am a man. 1 never did pray down revivals !")
* * * *("But," you say, "didn't Elias pray . . ?")
"Yes, he did: But Elias' prayers were more concerned about Elias' like-passions, than they were with dust bowls or Tekoa rain storms. You can see that with half an eye if you re-read the previous verse:
Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another that ye may become restored. 'The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much' (James 5:16).
The emphasis, you see, is not on the man's prayers, but upon the man's righteousness."
(That's exactly what Finney seems to be saying over and over.)
"Prayer is the very atmosphere of a revival, but the function of prayer is not to bring a revival down, but to get God's people prepared and active in the use of appropriate means."
* * * *(That sorry wresting, "You must pray it down!" has led to final disgust, and has lined a Muddy Ganges with a swarm of pitiful pilgrims crying, "Send a revival! send a revival! send a revival!" Remember, you are getting Finney's views, not the reporter's in the left box.)
"Why prayer? (he asks). Well, it's not to change God's mind, and thus to stir Him to send a revival. We are to pray, but not for that."
"Since a revival can never lay hold upon the world until it has first laid hold in the church, the need is for the fountain of sin to be broken up in the church. We are to pray for that. Backslidden Christians must be brought to repentance: they must have their faith renewed. We are to pray for that."
"Our own personal lives are to be searched with candles and every sin abandoned. We are to agonize about that! Let Elias pray over his own like passions: get that settled, by the grace of God, and the revival is on the way."
* * * *"Prayer (Finney speaking) is not to change God, but to change us. Prayer produces such a change in us, and fulfills such conditions in us as to render it consistent for God to do as it would not be consistent for Him to do otherwise."
"Come now, and behold the Lord Jesus Christ on the Mountains of Dothan. See the horses and chariots of fire! Stop sniveling for a revival. That's Heaven's business, and Heaven is ready. Our proper prayer is,
'Search me O God and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'"
"Remember, before the world can be moved we must renew the image of Jesus in ourselves. We ourselves must rise into a holy life. It is vain even to call upon the Church to 'love each other while the members are sunk down in a low and backslidden state. Frequent seasons of secret prayer are wholly indispensable in keeping up an intercourse with God. Without them you will do nothing though you have the intellectual endowment of an angel. I cannot contemplate a more loathsome and abominable object than an earthly minded minister "
* * * *
Is the lecture over, or did that last word break my heart, and stop my ears? I came tonight to hear a lecture, but the arrows of the Mighty stand quivering my soul. As with David, a Voice says, "Thou art the man."
XIV. WHILE THE FIRE BURNED
Verily this matter of reviewing the experiences and exploring the hearts of Christian Valiants, exacteth a heavy toll upon conscience. I said, "1 will take heed to my ways, that I sin not." I was dumb with silence, and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned. Then spake I, "Lord, make me to know how frail I am; verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity." Lord, deliver me from all my transgressions! --Sketch Book.
THERE was a time when thy servant smiled tolerantly over the descriptions which Finney, grown aged, employed to describe his preaching in the Temple Days:"The Spirit of God came upon me in such power it was like opening a battery upon them. For more than an hour, and perhaps an hour and a half, the word of God came through me to them in a manner that I could see was carrying all before it. It was a fire and a hammer breaking the rock; and as the sword that was piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. I saw a general conviction was spreading over the whole congregation. Many of them could not hold up their heads."
* * * *
The servant smiles no longer. His own head is bowed; his own heart hot within him.
Much gazing upon the face of the Young Prophet, together with mounting affection for him, are producing a singular illusion. He speaks to me! My heart is startled. His words do not rush like torrents as they did in the Theatre: they are calm, spaced, awful. He is saying,"Do you really want a revival in your age?"
"Yes, O man of God, more than all the world."
"Then, take pencil and paper again."
* * * *
There is no historic fantasy about this. Thy servant is certainly not back in 1834, occupying the left box of Chatham Street Theatre. It is 1942. A Canadian lad is pulling out of a practice power dive over the building which contains the little study. But pencil and paper are in hand: now what?"Write down your individual sins, one by one." (Not that, surely! Some one might find the paper, and what a mess it would be.)
"Write them down, nevertheless. Your sins, your own sins: just like a merchant going over his books."
* * * *
There is no power for thy servant to write, so Isaiah must dictate."Ingratitude. Did you always thank God for His favors? (Please, Mr. Finney, my face is flushed with shame.) Write it down! And as you write, a thousand places where you rewarded His love and care with thankless heart will rise like stem accusers. Write it down.')
"Lack of love. Go over all the place where objects that perished with the using obscured His face. Go over all the instances where you gave your love to others."
"Neglect of the Bible. Record such times as you remember when for days you had no real pleasure in the Word. And as you deal with the vivid examples, memory will fill the pages with a thousand forgotten times of shameless disobedience."
"Neglect of Prayer. (In the name of God, O, Prophet!--) Write it down! How often have you stood in the Tower of the Flock without awaiting in His Presence? Write it down."
"Envy. You wanted a revival, but you wanted to be the star of its appearing. (O, Mr. Finney, that is all but dying in my heart. I would rejoice, now, whoever might set the world on fire.) Write it down."
"Neglect of the Home Altar" (Behold now, thy servant cannot write. The page is wet with tears.) "Lack of Concern for the lost. Be truthful now.
Write it down."
"Cheap little sins you've cherished on the sly.
You reasoned, 'Since Spurgeon smoked'-- Write it down!"
"Write it all down! Slander, lying, cheating, hypocrisy, bad temper, filthy mind. Write it down and as you write, a thousand shades of shame arise . .."
"You say you wanted a revival. Now you can see why you never had one."
My heart is broken, my spirit crushed. I rise to my feet in confusion, because he demands, "Stand up!" His words are sharp swords."Do you really wish for a revival? Will you have one? If God should ask you this moment by an audible voice from heaven, 'Do you want a revival?' would you dare say 'Yes.' 'Are you willing to make the sacrifices?' Would your answer be 'Yes'?
"When shall it begin? Would your answer be 'Let it begin today!-let it begin here! Let it begin in my heart! NOW!'?"
* * * *
Thy servant's eyes have loosed their fountains. To this last question, he can only sob, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" He weeps, and mourns certain days, and fasts, and prays before the God of Israel.
After much time, there is Another speaking. It is no longer Young Isaiah, but He Who maketh His glorious voice to be heard,"Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. Go up, say to thy age, Prepare thy chariot, get thee down, that the rain of heaven stop thee not."
XV. OBERLIN INTERLUDE
The excellencies men acquire in their labors often become the occasion of their removal. Angels pause under the oak of Ophrah to admire the threshing arm of Mr. Humble Farmer, just before giving him a sword instead of the flail. But who can measure the bewilderment of the promoted servant? He has been wedded to the humbler task and all his joy therein made full. No man ever left the assembly line, being summoned to an office desk; and no dominie ever forsook the Tower of the Flock for a wider exercise of his gifts without crying, "Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel face to face." Sketch Book.
WHEN the curtain of the Chatham Street Theatre, in its unregenerate days, rang down on the second act, it almost invariably meant, a critical phase of the hero's life must now be faced. The hero was in trouble; but the third act would get him out. He was poor, honest and defeated; but the third act would move him into a Queen Anne house on Maiden Lane. The hero himself seemed to have little idea of good things to come. But, the audience did, and it warmed their hearts to think how the good man would be prospered.
Likewise, a long look at Finney, broken in health, delivering the Revival Lectures, and a knowledge of his later fortunes, give all the pick-up of the best in drama. You are deeply moved also to note the progress of our hero. When he entered the scene, he was a frontier boy; but now he has become a man of parts. Better still, the angel is just about to take the flail from Gideon's hand, and replace it with the rod of Gamaliel.
This process of replacement, three years long, is a fascinating record. Everything works together in such a way that reverent hearts cry, "How sublime is this place! Lo, God is here!"
Let us look therefore at the movements whereby separate strands are first woven, then interwoven for Finney's promotion.
* * * *
I. Out in Lorain County (remember) Finney's Timothy, John Jay Shipherd, and Philo Stewart in the year 1834 were building a school and founding a colony in five hundred acres of Ohio timberland. Mr. Shipherd, moreover, had started a church, The First Church of Oberlin.
II. Down in Cincinnati, Ohio, President Lyman Beecher under the patronage of the Tappan brothers, headed up a new Presbyterian institution, Lane Theological Seminary. Beecher also, was pastor of Cincinnati's Second Presbyterian Church.
III. Over in New York City, the second curtain had fallen on the life of Charles Grandison Finney. His own health was quite broken down, the Nine Golden Years ended, and the third act was opening with the delivery of The Revival Lectures. The resolving action is seen in the request of a number of young New Yorkers who said,
"Brother Finney, will you take us as students in theology, and teach us sacred eloquence?"
The leaders who planned the Broadway Tabernacle had anticipated this, and had built a classroom under the choir. But the applicants were too numerous for the quarters provided. Broadway Tabernacle could not house a permanent program of education.
* * * *
Behold now, how all things worked together for good! In Cincinnati, a revolt flared up among the students of Lane, and "they walked out in a body." The seminary trustees had touched the match by forbidding the students to debate matters related to slavery. Kentucky was just over the Ohio, and the big givers of the Blue Grass must not be offended by the school promoting emancipation.
Lyman Beecher should be freed of blame for the situation. He has enough for which to answer. It is hard for those who admire Beecher to explain how he persecuted Finney from Dan to Beer-Sheba, actually joining forces with anti-revival people, though he himself was an ardent evangelical. His private correspondence left off just a little short of making Finney a horse-thief;"Untruthful! ... Spirit of lying ... Not to be believed at all ... make a manful stand against him (Finney) "
True, at the end of the picture, Beecher was all for Finney. But the years when he and poor, dehydrated Nettleton went tommy-hawking after Finney are quite a bit too much off color for explanation.
When news of the student revolt reached New York, Arthur Tappan, overwrought, said to Finney,"You'll have to save this situation. Go out to Ohio somewhere, get rooms and teach these boys."
Very good; but where?
* * * *
When Shipherd heard the news in the Oberlin forests, he and Rev. Asa Mahan of Cincinnati, soon to be President of Oberlin, rushed to New York as fast as Lake Erie sailboats and turnpike stages could carry them. ("The stage coach going was bad. Sometimes we could get on no more than two or three miles an hour.") In New York they rushed to Tappan and Finney:
"Why not get those Lane boys to Oberlin, and have Brother Finney take them, and begin a department of Theology in the Institute? We have a good start: five hundred acres of land: a school charter. We have cleared the trees from the college square; have one building and several houses, and one hundred students in the academy."
"But would the boys be willing to go?" "Rather! Nearly everyone of them was converted in Finney's revivals. They've already said, 'We'll go to Oberlin if Bro. Finney will teach us.' "
* * * *
But Finney discerned serious difficulties. For one thing, he did not wish to be lined up with a school where the trustees interfered: his ideals of college reform went to a dangerous point: he wanted the way opened for negro students on the same condition as white people. The Oberlin trustees, therefore, must agree not to interfere with internal regulation. "After a great struggle to overcome their prejudices, and the prejudices of the community, the trustees agreed."
* * * *
But Finney was still troubled. For one thing, he did not intend to give up his Broadway pastorate. For another, no financing had been provided for Oberlin.
Broadway Tabernacle solved the first: "You need not resign: spend your summers in Oberlin, and your winters on Broadway, and we will pay traveling expenses both ways."
Arthur Tappan solved the second: "Bro. Finney, my income is one hundred thousand dollars a year. You go to Oberlin, take hold of the school, and I'll finance it."
"Bro. Tappan," cried Finney, "your heart is as large as ... as large as ... New York!"
* * * *
And, so it came to pass in the summer of 1835, Finney, Lydia and the family arrived in Cleveland by an Erie sailboat, after a much becalmed voyage. He immediately hired a horse and buggy, left Lydia behind, and drove two days through the dusty forest roads to Oberlin. He decided to accept the work, and hurried the family from Cleveland to Oberlin.
"Why Charles," said Lydia when she saw the timber rubbish in the college square, "the place has nothing. Just a tiny colony in the heart of a big forest. But, Charles, it's just what you want. There is nothing here to upset your ideals of college reform. And I like it here."
* * * *
Then followed three years of summers in Oberlin, winters on Broadway. But the strain was too severe to be continued. There was the itinerant life; and, unexpected trials in financing the school. In 1835, a commercial crash went over the country. The great mass of wealthy men, including the Tappans were prostrated. This not only left the college without funds to support the faculty, but a thirty thousand dollar building deficit.
To be sure, they paid out. John Keep and William Dawes went to England, raised the thirty thousand dollars among Britons who had been blessed by Revival Lectures. Other sums came in providentially, sufficient to save the day. But the double labor was too heavy. One morning in the Spring of 1837, when the yards in Wall Street were bright with flowers, Finney said,
"My dear, how can I give this up? the church so admirable for preaching the gospel? the crowds that gather within sound of my voice?"
And Lydia said, "Charles, you can do a hundred times more teaching those boys the spirit of evangelism, than by remaining in New York. And, besides, I'm tired of the noise."
(Shades of Hendrick Hudson, suppose she were to spend a 1942 Spring night in the Chesterfield on 49th St.?)
* * * *
In June of 1837, therefore, he concluded his New York pastorate, and moved to Oberlin. It was doubly hard to resign the church, for since the delivery of the Revival Lectures there had been a continuous Fire, even the night of the farewell service. (In later years, he grieved over the death of the Tabernacle: they substituted Sunday night lectures for the Gospel, and the glory departed.)
When he arrived in Oberlin, he found the First Church pastorless. Beloved John Shipherd, though but thirty-five, was beaten to the buff, utterly broken down. Finney accepted the call to the pastorate. Thus, in the Autumn of 1837 the Oberlin Interlude was concluded with Charles Grandison Finney, a resident of Oberlin, Pastor of the First Church, and Head of the Department of Theology, Oberlin Institute, Rev. Asa Mahan, President.
XVI. FIRST LADY OF OBERLIN
Throughout nine glorious years, Lydia did follow the Man of Like Passions wherever he went; and he rejoiced in her, second to his Lord Jesus Christ. During the early days, they were too poor to own a carriage, so she walked with him from town to town. Later, in New York City, she was the joy of the entire church and congregation. And when Finney served Oberlin as pastor and president, everybody loved her, particularly the students.
The saddest portions of Scripture are those wherein the records are written concerning the sorrows of Abraham, weeping over Sarah, wetting her face with his tears, and placing the precious clay in the Cave of Machpelah. The little headstone of Lydia's grave prompted a powerful remembrance to that sad night in Oberlin when they said to President Finney, "Both the mother and the baby are -- dead." --Sketch Book
WHEN thy servant fashioned THE SHADOW OF THE BROAD BRIM, he found Susannah to be as excellent as her distinguished Tirshatha. When he wrote BUSH AGLOW, Emma Charlotte appeared a greater spirit than her world-moving husband. And now the Sketch Book repeats the experience, -- in the midst of it stands another notable woman, Lydia Rebecca Finney. The records of the past have not quickly yielded the secrets of the Maiden of Whitesboro. There is upon first investigation of the Finney memorabilia, only occasional mention of her. But these occasional sentences are of such character that she stands out in vivid winsomeness, as if fashioned by the swift lines of Charles Dana Gibson.
The first reference to Lydia in Finney's own works, were written by him in his seventy-fifth year, when he was in his age. Any man whose heart hath found The One Woman, understands the passage immediately;"Mr. Foster spent several days with me in visiting from house to house. He was wealthy and very benevolent. He proposed to employ me as his missionary, to work in the towns. throughout that country, and he would pay me a salary.
. . I declined . . On going away, he left a letter for me containing three ten dollar bills. A few days later, he came up again, spent two or three days. When he went away, he left another letter containing as before, three ten dollar bills. Thus I found myself possessed of sixty dollars, with which I immediately purchased a buggy. Before this time, though I had a horse, I had no carriage; and my young wife and myself used to go a good deal on foot, to meetings."
If you are accustomed to viewing large landscapes through narrow windows, the above is one of the tenderest lines in literature; an old man thinking of the wife of his youth, walking from place to place through New York winters. It brings to mind a passage written by another old man who remembered a similar girl:I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown. (Jeremiah 2:2.)
These companion women fashioned for the servants of God, are strangely alike. The Good Father seems content to make them much the same, excepting the pleasant variations of eye-tint and hair-color. The book of Proverbs reveals the master plan for all these women:The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her: she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. Her husband is known in the gates. Her husband praiseth her, "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all"
* * * *
Just before Finney began his work "in destitute places," he rode horseback from Adams to Utica, New York, to receive his commission from the Female Missionary Society. He met with the committee in the house of the chairman, Mrs. Sarah Kirkland. One of the other women had a lovely young niece who lived in Whitesboro, and who was visiting Utica at the time. By accident (!) she brought her along. When young Finney came into the parlor, Mrs. Seymour said, "Mr. Finney, my niece, Miss Lydia Andrews."
Please remember, it was late March and the omens of Spring were everywhere. And who can look coldly upon the scene where a young man meets for the first time the girl? There was something about the way she moved toward him, something utterly devastating in the swish of her colonial silks as she walked. He instantly realized what he told his Oberlin students a hundred times in after years, "A man's only half a man until he finds his woman, and that's an understatement."
The young missionary had a bad time of it in his prayers that night. He could no longer pray as he did when he was first saved. Whenever he tried to talk to his Lord, that girl moved right into the circle, making three. He felt as if this was of sin; and was certain he must be all the more sinful because his heart condemned him not. He tried to pray her out: but she wouldn't go. He feared she was coming between him and God. .
He had yet to learn one of the sweetest secrets of life; God never is jealous of the woman He gives. He plans that the man shall love her all the more, to the end that he shall love his Lord even better. Isn't that what the word saith?Give honor unto the wife as being heirs together of the grace of life that your prayers be not hindered!
A few weeks later, he rode back to Utica though he felt embarrassed about doing it, and made his way to Whitesboro. She was even better than the dreams he had of her day and night. There she sat in the parlor in her postcolonial dress, which was impotent alas, to hide the fineness of her body. Her hair was a lustrous brown, her eyes a mystic hazel . . . He could hardly wait to say to her what he had rehearsed over and over. At last he stammered, "Lydia, you're only twenty. I'm thirty-two. Would you be content to be the wife of a minister?"
She spared him further words. She walked up very close to him, her dainty form beside his tall figure. And she said, "O Charles, I've loved you secretly ever since I was a small girl. I was one of the band that prayed for your conversion. And I am afraid I prayed as much that you might be mine as that you might be saved."
The old man of seventy-five with supreme satisfaction seems to speak about the last of the Utica trips: "We were married in October, 1824!"
There is no point in dwelling upon the belated honeymoon as so many writers do. He planned to go home to make ready for his bride, then, return to bring her back. But on the way, as he watered his horse in a New York village, someone recognized him, a crowd gathered about, and another revival was on. The whole affair had her full approval. But, when at last they were united, she exacted amends for the separation by never being away from him again, save in the hours of motherhood.
Everything about the couple warms our hearts, the way they walked from place to place, the way they later drove that sparkling surrey all over New England; the way Gotham City loved her, the way she captured Oberlin.
Hers was a radiant faith that took life by the hand and romped with it. She could carry the deepest reverence in a charming atmosphere of banter. The serious-minded evangelist looked at her over and over and thought, "I wouldn't have her change for all the world."
* * * *
The public, by the large, gave him the great man veneration. But not Lydia. To her he was an adorable one who needed just such revision as she was prepared to furnish. Take the time when he went overboard, psychologically speaking, and reprimanded the Oberlin choir in his prayer! "O Lord, we trust that Thou hast understood the song which we have been trying to sing, but Thou knowest we could not understand a word of it." Even as he offered this peevish petition, he thought, "Lydia will have something to say about that." She did.
Then there was the Mulberry Interlude of 1836. Oberlin College was bankrupt. An enthusiastic clergyman suggested silk culture to fill the treasury. "All you need to do is to get the Mulberry trees started, secure the worms. It will payout in a year, and give $10,000.00 a year income afterwards." Lydia wasn't impressed. She felt if the plan were adopted, the name of the school should be changed to "Mulberry University." But the Oberlin leaders went ahead, spending $2,000.00 to buy 60,000 trees. They suspended school one week to permit the students to plant them. They secured one million worms and built a big Cocoonery. Nothing came of it. But Lydia thought the episode had extenuating circumstances; "We did have the use of the trees and the worms."
* * * *
In early Oberlin days, someone gave the Parsonage Farm, and built a large brick parsonage for Mr. and Mrs. Shipherd, just around the block from Pease' historic first house under the Elm. Charles and Lydia moved into the house in 1837, when he accepted the pastorate of the Church. The parsonage became the center of community life, all manner of persons calling upon the charming lady of the manse. While John Jay Shipherd remained in Oberlin before he went to Michigan, Lydia heard from him every detail of his Oberlin dream. How it all started from a Sunday School book which his lawyer father had in the home. The young boy read the book over and over; this book which was the story of John Frederick Oberlin who built a Christian Community in the Vosges Mountains of Eastern France. -The story fired the boy's heart, with the result that another Christian Colony was set up in the Lorain Forests, named-Oberlin!
She completely won and held the little village, first as the Pastor's wife, later as the President's wife. There were other notable Oberlin women before and after Lydia. Mrs. John Jay Shipherd for instance. She was five years older than Lydia, but married the same year. Though she was the founder's wife, she never gripped Oberlin as did Lydia. You can understand this by looking at the lean, rather hard, pioneer face of her portrait in the College Library. Then, there was the regal Mrs. James Harris Fairchild in whose love story there is far better material than you find in Departure With the Breeze. And yet, despite these remarkable women of Oberlin, it is fair to say at Sesquicentennial, that Lydia is Oberlin's First Lady, just as her husband is Oberlin's First Citizen.
* * * *
The voluminous letter files, which were found in Finney's study at his death in 1875, bear mute evidence of his great love for Lydia. He kept every one of her private papers. You could spend a week going over those charming letters written to Lydia over a century ago. You will note the progress of letter writing. In the files from 1818 to about 1840, there were no envelopes! The letter itself was folded, waxed, shut with a blank space out, and thereon, the name and address were written. Postage was high, so many of the letters are written across the pages in black ink, then across the black ink in red ink! They are not easy to read. Along about 1845 an innovation appears--envelopes!
But we must not get lost in detail. These letters' give the most colorful sidelight on Lydia's remarkable character, and provide many surprising bits of information which are worked into the text of this book. The letters reveal that Lydia's relatives almost worshipped her. There are many' missives like this one from her sister, Mrs. Mary Ann Beebe of Whitesboro, N. Y. The letter was first addressed to Lydia at Wilmington, Delaware, then forwarded to Philadelphia; dated February 2, 1828." ... but Lydia it is a consolation to know you meet with kind friends wherever you go, though it is true they do not seem in every respect like one's own family connection. . . . By your writing, sister, you are beginning to feel a little home sicke and it is not strange considering the time you have gone from home. There is a vacant place for you by our fireside this winter . . . you are gone, Mary Anne is gone and I have no one to wait on me but mother . . . Father's health is better . . . "
Some of these letters must have brought a merry laugh from Lydia, as the following:"Wilmington, Feb. 21, 1828. Dear Mrs. Finney ... a few of Mr. Finney's female friends in Wilmington wish to present him with a set of shirts and not knowing the size of his wrist bands, collar, etc., I have thought best to ask the favor of you to send us one of Mr. Finney's shirts for a pattern ... it is to be a surprise . . . Send it to the steam boat on Saturday, the stewart will take care of it. Mary Hamilton."
There are many letters from the college students to her. One lad writes, "Dear Mrs. Finney, How homesick I have been to see you. I have read your letter until it is almost worn out." A girl student writes, "So good to get. your letters ... but to hear from your lips again the wonderful words of God." There are letters from all over the world. "London: Dear Madam: Your husband's revival lectures are a great blessing and your kind Christian letters deeply appreciated."
Someone wrote: "To think with this letter I begin a life time correspondence." This was literally true. Lydia had hundreds of correspondents. She was the official scribe of the family. People generally wrote to Finney first, but they afterwards wrote to Lydia. She answered! Every place where Finney held meetings marked the beginning of a new list of writers. These letters, of which numerous notations are recorded in the Sketch Book, are a revelation of the place the woman held in thousands of hearts, and particularly in her husband's devotion. Some documents he seemed to have lost; but none of her's!
These letters moreover will levy a tax on your heart if you read them. There are increasing references to her poor health, The Librarian hands you a box marked "1840-1849." In this box the admiring letters to Lydia suddenly cease and are succeeded by pages with black borders; "Dear Brother Finney, Our hearts go out to you in your sorrow over the death of Mrs. Finney." Your emotions are too deeply stirred to continue. You thank the Librarian, hand the box back to her, and hurry out of the building.
* * * *The Man of Like Passions at seventy-five records his own heart break at her going:"That beloved wife of mine died. It was to me a great sorrow. The night after she died, I was lying in my room alone, and some kind Christian friends were sitting in the parlor, watching out the night. I had been asleep awhile, and as I awoke, the thought of my bereavement flashed over my mind with such power! My wife was gone! I should never speak to her again or see her face! My children were motherless! What should I do? I rose instantly from my bed exclaiming, 'I shall be deranged if I cannot rest in God.' The Lord calmed my mind, for that night, but still at times seasons of sorrow would come over me.
"She died in a heavenly frame of mind. Her rest in God was so perfect. These are experiences in which 1 have lived a great deal since that time."
* * * *
Across the street from the northwest corner of the college square stands the Finney Memorial Chapel. Very few know that the parsonage of the First Church in Oberlin once stood on the same area. In the Finney Memorabilia kept in the custody of the Library, you can find three pictures of the old residence. It was a "T" shaped, two and a half story brick built in 1835, with the top of the "T" facing the square. 'That was the front of the house, with the dining room, parlor, and stair hall. On the second floor, the bed rooms. The leg of the "T" housed the kitchen, and so forth: while in the back yard was the stable.
In 1851 Finney purchased the house and there abode until his death in 1875. Frederick Norton Finney, C. G.'s son, an outstanding Western railroad promoter, repurchased the house and deeded it back to the college. He also established a memorial fund of $50,000.00 to which other sums were added.
In 1905 the old residence was torn down and the Chapel took its place. To those who value a historical perspective, it is impossible to forget that right there where the Chapel stands, Lydia lived and laughed and labored for nearly ten years. Nor can we forget a bereaved man in an upper room waking from his sleep in the remembrance that the silent body of his wife and little daughter lay down stairs.
The most helpful relief for our sympathies is to go out to Westwood Cemetery where the bodies rest, close together: waiting! waiting till the King shall come, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and afterwards, we that are alive at his coming.
XVII. POLISHED SHAFT MOLDS HIS GENERATION
"Your destiny will be shaped by what he was and what he did. From that bright and shining light, in which for so long a season we were permitted to rejoice, a thousand other lights have been lighted." PRESIDENT JAMES HARRIS FAIRCHILD, (1866-1889) at Oberlin, June 1876.
THE scene now opens upon that period of thirty-five years, 1837 to 1872, which make the cap sheaf for Finney's life and labors. To help remember, note that in 1837 at the age of forty-five, Finney moved to Oberlin, became Pastor of the First Church and head of the Department of Theology, Oberlin Institute; in 1872, at the age of eighty, he resigned the pastorate of the Church. In the midst of the period, 1851-1866, he served as President of Oberlin College, and the thousands who flocked "to matriculate on the frontier where Finney was" underwrote the future of the Oberlin. The Trellis sums it up: "Thirty-five years of vast labors in college, church and world evangelism."
* * * *
Let us go down to the City of Oberlin. It is Wednesday, May 27,1942. Yesterday was commencement, and today hundreds of boys and girls are gaily departing with innumerable pieces of luggage-radios, Val-a-paks and what-nots. You exclaim, "A small village, but what a college! It has a regular little Stanford stride, and what more can a Californian say?"
You quickly learn the school has one hundred and seventy-one teachers, a student body of nearly two thousand, a five million dollar physical equipment, a nineteen million dollar endowment, and a great library of nearly four hundred thousand bound volumes. Moreover, to quote a Gushing Young Thing on the Greyhound, "It has a perfectly gorgeous campus!"
* * * *
You feel inclined to borrow an explorer's phrase, "This river drains a continent!" It certainly does. At the head waters are the life, labours and ideals of Charles Grandison Finney. To be sure, Time and Evolution, Twin Darlings of Scholarship, have greatly modified Mr. Finney's positions. Long ago the "Oberlin Theology," (sugar coat meaning "Finney Theology") was put on the back shelf with John Owen and Timothy Dwight; and the general trend reminds you strangely of the theme song of Brown University:"We don't know where we're going,
But, we're on the way."
You quickly become certain of this, however, that the Great Convictions of Finney are as thoroughly forgotten as his grave lot in Westwood Cemetery. Just how and when it all began makes no grist for this mill. Somewhere along the line, Infiltration took place (bless me, that sounded scientific!) and mild, Emerson-like scholars appeared; gentlemen whose Degrees were esteemed sufficient to justify their taking over the College, but whose great convictions could never build another like it.
This in the language of the New York Times, "dismisses our responsibility to the contemporary scene," and permits us to go back to the period, 1837 and 1872. We are to regard our Hero, when he, after turning the world upside down by his own unique powers, undertook the greater labor of teaching thousands of others how it could be done again.
* * * *
The roar of a warplane over London grows dim ... the years are falling back ... bless me, here we are in the Horse and Buggy Days of Oberlin Yes, right in the classroom with Finney what year makes no difference; any one of the thirty-five.
The young men and women in the class are a surprise. After hearing these students called "Finney's Holy Band," we formed unfavorable opinions. But look, they're laughing! And they are perfectly normal, lovable youngsters. Finney is talking,--(If you think this record is mixed up, you have not learned that Oberlin under Finney was the first co-ed college in America.)
"And, therefore, young folks, be sure you go about your business, and don't make the mistake of fighting back at your enemies. Don't fight back. I remember over in Stony Creek a frontiersman used to say, 'Charlie, I once kicked at nothing, and it hurt so much I was laid up a week.' (Laughter, lots of it.)"
"I bless the Lord, I was prevented from being diverted from my, revivals by opposition. Incidentally, never allow anything to divert you from revivals--persimmon beer, pompadours, Virginia sheroots, or slavery. God gave me assurance He would overrule all opposition without my turning aside to answer opposers."
"Once, Dr. Beecher was in Philadelphia managing against me (archaic for mudslinging), while I was laboring in that City and had been for several months in the midst of a powerful revival, perfectly ignorant of his errand there. Just keep your hands full of God's labor, and let opposition alone."
(The boys are much amused; but in the years that I followed they became Nehemiahs who seldom left the walls for a Samaritan Pow Wow.)
* * * *
(It's another day: he is talking about the relationship between faith and education.)"You are here in school because you believe and I believe, that a truly educated mind loses none of its evangelical fire, but is rather better fitted to preach the word. But watch that education doesn't go to your head. If it becomes a malady, it always attacks the weakest part (Laughter.)"
"I am solemnly impressed that the schools are to a great extent spoiling the ministers. Once Lydia-pardon, Mrs. Finney, ventured to say to a seminary man who was supplying for me on Broadway, 'You are preaching over the heads of our people.' He said, 'I cannot descend to your people. I must cultivate an elevated style.'''
"Mrs. Finney says she is not aware that he is yet dead, but she has never seen his name connected with revivals. (Laughter) The best manner of winning souls, I can say in perfect truth, was not taught me by man, but by the Spirit of Christ Himself. (The students are deeply serious again, and so leave the room.)"
* * * *
(Today, he is talking about doctrine, or as he states it, "the faith-once-for-all-delivered.")"Remember, above all we must preach the same Gospel the Apostles preached. Revivals should increase in purity and power, as intelligence increases, and I have never found it necessary either in doctrine or method to undergo reformation."
"Were I to live my life over again, with the experience of more than forty years in revival labors, I should use substantially the same measures I did then."
(Did I hear that! Wait till I see that fellow who said, "But if Finney were alive today. .. ")
* * * *
(It must be April in Oberlin today; he is talking about-love and marriage! And, it must have been before that darkest of hours in 1846 when he, sobbing, watched the light go out of Lydia's dear eyes.)"Young men and women, it's just nature, God's kind, for a man to want a wife and a home. Don't get any fancy ideas about accomplishing more alone. A man is just half a man without a woman, and that's an understatement. (Laughter) And be sure you get no queer standards as to what you must have to get married. Mrs. Finney and I got along for many a year on $400.00. She must have been content, for she has never yet spoken about going back home. (The students do not laugh; their hearts are tender. Day by day they have witnessed the sustained love life of the President and the First Lady.)"
"Be sure, too, she's God's woman for you; a woman of faith, of prayer. Next to Jesus Himself, the woman in the manse is a minister's greatest blessing. (They go out very quietly today.) "
* * * *
(Today he is speaking on the preparation and delivery of sermons. Some young man has inquired, "Bro. Finney, how do you prepare your sermons?" )"Well, my habit has always been to study the gospel, and the best application of it--all the time. I do not confine myself to hours and days of writing my sermon, but my mind is always pondering the truths of the gospel, and the best ways of using them. I depend on the occasion and the Holy Spirit to suggest a text."
"I almost always get my subjects on my knees in prayer; and it has been a common experience with me, upon receiving a subject from the Holy Spirit, to have it make so strong an impression on my mind as to make me tremble. When subjects are thus given me that seem to go through me, body and soul, I find they always tell with great power on the people. IF I do not preach from inspiration, I do not know how to preach. This is the only way--'preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.'''
* * * *
Today, the students file in quietly. The air is surcharged with expectancy. The class hardly gets started before the President says, "Let us pray awhile." As his prayer goes on, they feel the space between them and God narrow down closer than breathing. Suddenly he cries:"O mighty God, there are many in the school this year who are not yet saved. God help us I Something is wrong with us. Son of God, cleanse our sinful hearts I Let us not stand in the way of the lost!"
(The young people file out silently and quickly. An entire hour has passed like a moment! The Campus becomes serious; evidence everywhere of intercessory prayer. Finally on a certain Sunday, the fire of God comes down in the First Church, and another revival is on. They have one year after year. The President says, "Better omit the course in English Literature than omit the revival.")
A young man who sits beside me says, "You're a stranger here, aren't you?"
"Yes," I reply, "I've not even been born yet."
The young man does not hear, or he esteems my remarks too flippant for notice. "Well (he concludes) it is rarely indeed that an unsaved young person comes here without giving his heart, sooner or later, to Jesus."
With a revival on, the classes become surcharged with power. The President is now talking day by day about Revivals: their power, their Nature, their Price, just as he did long ago in the Chatham Street Theatre. And he says to those boys and girls of that far away day, just what he said to me,"Write them down. Your sins. Your own sins. Just like a merchant going over his books .... "
* * * *
The Boston Bomber came down too near the roof of the Canadian Church, and the roar of it has jerked me back to 1942. I would not be surprised if that pilot has a sweetheart in this block. I feel like running out and shouting,
"Go to it boy! A man's only half a man without a woman, and that's an understatement!"
A group of young ministers come into the little Talbot Street Study to talk about Spurgeon, and Moody, and-Finney. They ask, "Don't you think if these men were alive today, they would use different . . ."
Thy servant shouts with glee,"No. A thousand times, no! They would find no need to change their doctrines. They would use substantially the same measures. And what's more, they'd have a revival!"
* * * *
Small wonder Finney filled his world with a thousand Elishas. People began to say in the early forties, "You can always tell an Oberlin man. He's just another edition of Finney."
One Sunday morning in the late eighties, in San Jose of the Santa Clara Valley, Pentecost fell at the earnest words of the minister. A stranger said to him, "You're a Finney man, aren't you?"
Tears filled the dominie's eyes as he said,"Yes, thank God! I'm one of the thousand other lights!"
Blow! November gale. Thine is a kindly ministry. Thou dost send us indoors to enjoy the fireplace of a warm heart, radiant with the backlog of His promises, unchangeable and true. Strange, isn't it?-we were so poorly prepared to sense the subtler wonders of the grace of God in our Nimrod months, when human energy almost overwhelmed the Still Small Voice.
Yea, Lord, we thank Thee for full maturity. So many things are settled that will never be subjects of agitation again! We esteem sunset mirth to be the most refined and carefree j and the aged lips of righteous men, like the quiet flow of King's River in November, emit a laughter 80 delicate that angels stop to listen. At mid-day, we half-believed in Providence j but in the Covert of many years, all doubts forever disappeared! Unqualified affirmation lays hold: "I have been young, but now am old," therefore I know! THE BORROWED GLOW, Entry, November 1.
IN the year 1860, Finney at the age of sixty-eight, sensed the ancient poet's veiled intimation, "The doors shall be shut in the streets." But he took no stock in the other part of the sentiment, where it is said, "The years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." The man who said that was only fifty-one: what could he know about the sanction of old age? God let him say it, without correction, just to show how widely a youngster misses the treasures of the snow. So far as he was concerned, he felt like Abraham, "richly advanced into age." But he did admit fears 'in the highway; so, after his last revival in Great Britain, he kept himself to the city of Oberlin.
In 1866, he closed the door of the President's Office behind him, though he continued to teach in the college. From 1868, the clouds returned after the rain. He preached but once a Sunday; and in 1872 he laid down his work as pastor of the First Church.
After the farewell services were concluded, he tarried a moment to look back at the big colonial windows, still lighted from the inside. He just couldn't hold back the rush of sentiment which every faithful pastor has felt. There have been those of whom we know, who drove away from the Church, then late at night drove back" to weep and be alone with God.
He remembered how he planned and built the edifice; remembered how three generations had filled its aisles while he was pastor; he remembered ....
"O God!" he cried in his heart, "it's hard to give it up."
And young Rebecca Helen his wife said, "What is it, Mr. Finney?"
"Nothing!" he replied. A new moon hung like silver in the west. "Come," he said, "what a glorious night for driving awhile."
* * * *
He knew that a special work of God would be required to save an old man from the desire to exercise authority when the strength to use it had departed. So he prayed much about that.
His heart bounded with gratitude one day when Rebecca Helen said, "Mr. Finney, Pastor James Brand was here today. And you should have heard what he said about you! He didn't desire at first to become pastor of the Church while you were alive; everybody idolized you. He was fearful about preaching in your presence. But it was all so different now. You were so sympathetic. When he got into his pulpit dull hearted and saw you in the pew, God lighted every candle in his soul. He just wanted to start a revival."
* * * *
That brought him to his knees again, as did the thousand and one evidences coming from the ends of the earth, that the church had by the grace of God been prospered under him. One day the Book opened at the end of Judges, and he read,"And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Tim-nath-serah (by interpretation, The-Place-in-the-Sun), which is in Mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash. And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel."
He closed the Book with a smile and hitched up to drive over to the station, then to the College.
"Well," he mused as Dobbin's feet pounded smartly on the country road, "the sight of Israel serving the Lord must have given Joshua the best days of his life, over on his farm in Tim-nath-serah. Certainly that took the sting out of death!"
When he, light-hearted, jumped from the rig and hurried into the classroom, some one saw him and wrote,"How amazing this man of eighty-two! The burden of the years rest lightly upon him. He still stands erect as a young man. His life never seemed so rich in the fruit of the Spirit and the beauty of holiness as in these closing years."
* * * *
The spring of 1875 came on the forests of Lorain with unusual beauty. Even the cawing of the crows in the tops of the leafless elms made him gleeful. You could always count on the crows. They were fine birds despite their cracked voices. Even when snow lay on the ground they came back into the winter woodland and shouted!"Dontletthesnowfoolya!
He laughed. "They'd make great preachers in spite of their mannerisms. They know a revival's coming, and they're not afraid to say so!"
A little later he noted in his woodland walks that May Apples in profusion were springing up at the edge of the timber. The sight of them moved his heart. They always made him remember--Lydia! God help him, he could never get her out of his mind. Every blessed event in their life rushed into memory .... that day when she a lovely girl of twenty stood up to marry him, and he was twelve years her senior! ... she never did get over her sparkling enthusiasm; and he never wanted her to.
... And the May Apples! They made a bright passage in their love life. Each year they laughed like children when they saw the Nile green leaves come up. And the white blossoms setting in the crotch of the stems ... those were glorious days ... but they had to end ...
He wept to think how the signs of death came on her young face in 1846 . . . his frantic letters home, "O Lydia, how can I give you up?" . . . her own replies, "Dear Charles, do you love me for my sake, or for Christ's? When I'm gone to be with Him, rejoice in my joy, be happy in my happiness." ... He saw her later, lying there, still in death, and only forty-three.
Once again he had to seek the Mercy Seat. And this time an old man knelt in the angle where the fence rails met, just as years ago a young man hid in the forest of Adams.
Just before midnight; on Sunday, August 16, he awakened with a-sharp pain in his heart. There had been so much of this during his time. On every occasion when he sowed the seeds of revival, they were moistened with his tears. Every time he brought Fire from the hand of God it meant for him suffering, self-examination, travail.
As morning came, he seemed to be ascending a lofty eminence, like the Above All Mountains of Warren. Yet, it could not be the Connecticut summit; this one pierced far beyond the starry skies. Suddenly, the Companion of the Emmaus Road walked beside him. He remembered years ago, of saying in a sermon, "I have faith to believe that just before the Christian dies, the Lord Jesus comes forth to meet him, and to comfort him." So it was really true! And the words which fell from the King's lips answered every torturing question:"He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seeds, shall doubtleas come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
* * * *
The showers of May fell like intermittent blessing upon Westwood Cemetery that morning in 1942. In the distance a flock of boisterous crows were calling ... At the edge of the trees, next to the Golf Course, a brave little patch of May Apples lifted their twin leaves. It seemed good that the headstone of the wife of his youth, only, stood in the grave plot, second to the monument of her husband. Its thin top edge bore the inscription "Lydia R." and the front
C. G. Finney
Age 43 yrs
C. G. + L. R. Finney
The stone carries in simplest form the pathetic story, a remembrance of that night of sorrow when they said to the President of Oberlin, "Both Lydia and the baby are dead." And on his monument the words,
Charles G. Finney
August 29, 1792
August 16, 1875
The Lord our God be with us,
as He was with our fathers:
let Him not leave us nor forsake us
Photo InfoThe Family Lot in Westwood Cemetery
Stones in the Finney Grave Lot
(Photo by "Deborah," July 5. 1942)
CHRONOLOGY OF FINNEY'S LIFE
The First Forty Years: 1792-1832
Raw Pilgrim Turns His World Upside Down for Christ.
"Having no regular training for the ministry, I intended to go into new settlements and preach in barns and groves as best I could. Accordingly, I took a commission for six months from a female missionary society and began my labors at Evans MilIs." (Autobiography: p. 61.)
1792--August 29. Born, Warren, Connecticut, at the base of "The Above All Mountain, elevation 1,456 feet." (Highway 25, seventeen miles s.w. out of Torrington to New Preston; thence Highway 45 miles north to Warren. It's a great drive if you can ever get gas again!)
1794--Parents trek west via the Ox-Cart Trail to Hanover, N. Y. (Highway 128 s.w. five miles from Utica to Clinton. Then ask the inhabitants. )Grade work in frontier schools; two years in Indian school, Hamilton's Oneida Institute at Clinton.
1808--Parents ox-cart it west again, settling in the virgin wilderness of Lake Ontario, at Henderson Bay, in the village of Henderson, N. Y. (Highway 28, eighteen miles s.w. of Watertown.)
1809-12--"Teaches rural school." "Rural," and how! (Start off on Highway 178, go five miles. You may find it.)
1813-15--Attends Academy at Warren, Conn.
1815-17--Teaches school "right across from New York City." Likely near "Hoboken, New Joisy." (If you must, take the Hudson Tube.)
1818-21--Studies "Elementary Law" in office of "Judge" Benjamin Wright, at Adams, N. Y. (Highway 11, sixteen miles s.w. of Watertown. Adams still after its first thousand.)
1821--October 10: "Converted." 1822-23-"Mark Hopkins Seminary." "An elementary theological course" under Pastor George W. Gale, First Presbyterian Church, Adams. Licensed to preach, December 30.
1824--"Launches out," at Evans Mills, N. Y. (Highway 11, nine miles n.e. of Watertown.)Marries Miss Lydia Andrews, October.
The great revivals begin. Our Baruch in Buckskins ordained at Evans Mills, July 11th, Presbyterian Church.
1824--32--Era of the Great Revivals. Nine years of the Talus Stride in Mass Evangelism, making him a man fully equipped, but ending in his "complete fatigue."
The Second Forty Years: 1832-1872
Polished Shaft Molds His Generation in Christ.
"Your destiny will be shaped by what he was and what he did. From that bright and shining light, in which for so long a season we were permitted to rejoice, a thousand other lights have been lighted." PRESIDENT FAIRCHILD at Oberlin, June, 1876.
1832--April 29. Begins New York City pastorate in Chatham Street Theatre. (Use Independent Tube.)
1833--35--Broadway Tabernacle built, burnt, built again and occupied. (Israel has the lot now.)
1834--35--Revival Lectures delivered, Fall and Winter" "while I was still pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Chatham Street Chapel."
1835--Leaves Presbyterian Church for Congregational Denomination, not because he sought the warmth of their orthodoxy but the elbow room of their democracy.
1835--Summer, goes to Oberlin, Ohio, "to build up a Department of Theology in the new frontier Collegiate Institute." (Highway 20, thirty-five miles s.w. of Cleveland.)
1835-37--Three years of "Summers in Oberlin, Winters on Broadway."
1837--Discontinues New York pastorate.
1837-72-Assumes pastorate First Congregational Church, Oberlin. Builds a 1000-seat auditorium and a great membership. Continuous revival in a 4,000 population-class city.
1847--Death Lydia A. Finney.
1848-Marries Mrs. Elizabeth Atkinson.
1863-Death Elizabeth Atkinson Finney.
185l--66--Assumes Presidency of Oberlin.Thousands flock to "matriculate on the frontier," in that quarter of a century.
1864--Marries Mrs. Rebecca Helen Rayl, "who survived him thirty-two years."
l837--72--Thirty-five years of vast labors in college, church and world evangelism.
The Last Three Years
The Tribes of Israel Come to Joshua at His Place "In-the-Sun," Tim-nath-serah, Where He Sets Up the Stone of Witness.
"And thus God gave this man of eighty a golden postlude."-Sketch Book.
1872--75--Three years of student contacts, life changing and anointed preaching.
1875--August 16. Within thirteen days of his eighty-third birthday, he ascends "The Above-All Mountain," not of his home town, Warren, but of the New Jerusalem; "Elevation, far beyond the Starry Skies."
Six headstones of the Finney Grave Lot in Westwood Cemetery, Oberlin, Ohio. The inscriptions from left to right are as follows :
1. Julia Finney Monroe, 1837-1930
Married to James Monroe
December 7, 1865
2. Delia A.
Daughter of C. G. and L. R. Finney
Departed this life
1 Sept., 1852
In the 8th year of her age.
3. Lydia R.Wife of C. G. Finney Age 43 yr s,
Daughter of C. G. Finney
4. Sylvester Finney August 26, 1842 Age 83 years(This stone lies prone just back of Finney's monument, and can be seen in the picture between the markers for the graves of Lydia R. Finney and Wm. Atkinson Finney)
5. Wm. Atkinson Son of G. Jr. and A. A. Finney Feb. 10, 1871Age 25 days
6. Charles G. Finney August 29. 1792 August 16, 1875
The Lord our God be with us as He was with our fathers: let Him not leave us nor forsake us
When one gets eyes to see, there lies the life of Finney in two distinct eras of forty years each. The first forty brought him to his kingdom, and the second forty brought his kingdom to him. Moreover, God added to his days an halcyon Indian Summer of three years more. But what seest thou uppermost whereof we must speak concerning this man? What but this--UA conventional man, using conventional means, is God's conventional method of bringing a fresh impulse toward Heaven."
"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit."
(James 5 :17-18).
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOKS STORE