The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To The Editor of The Christian News
31 January 1860
[Published in The Christian News (Glasgow), 4 February 1860, p.2.]
The following notice appeared in The Christian News (Glasgow), 28 January 1860, p.2:
"Revivals and Slavery in America"
[Some time ago, in noticing the results of the revival in Ireland in the repression of intemperance, and its blessed effects, also, in the case of those traffickers in liquor who had abandoned their business, we took occasion to question whether similar results had followed the revival in America, in reference to the 'great sin' of the republic. The following letter and accompanying documents from an old friend, in whom we have the greatest confidence, confirms, we grieve to say, our worst fears in regard to this subject.]
Oberlin College, Ohio, U.S.,
Dec. 30, 1859.
SIR,--In a late number of your paper, you inquire to what extent the late revivals had modified the feelings of the American people on the subject of slavery. The enclosed paragraph, cut from the official organ of the American Missionary Association, will throw some light on that question. I am acquainted with Mr. Fee, and I know that he possesses too much of the meek spirit of his Divine Master, to say anything rash or offensive.
I have been informed, upon what I consider good authority, that at the public daily prayer-meetings, the coloured people worship by themselves in an upper room. Whether this is universally the case, I am unable to say. From personal observation, I am inclined to think that in Great Britain the effects of the American Revival are greatly over-rated.
I trust that the present remarkable religious movement in Ireland and Wales, will produce results that will be permanent.--I remain, sir, your obt. servant,
FULTON STREET PRAYER MEETING
We have attended some of these daily prayer meetings with much pleasure, though we have had occasion to witness occurrences occasionally that gave pain. Often have we been inquired of by Christian people in this country and in Great Britain, respecting these meetings, and it has been our uniform practice to say what we could in commendation of them. Special inquiry has been made whether prayers are offered for the slave, whether coloured people have the same privileges as white people, and whether the revivals in this country have softened the hearts of converts with regard to 'our country's sin,' as the missionary, Dr. Perkins, termed American Slavery.
The hearts of many have been saddened by the fact that coloured Christians had not equal attention with white people at the Fulton Street meetings--that slavery and slaveholding were considered there among the 'controverted subjects' that must not be alluded to in prayer or exhortation; and that the revivals had not produced a very manifest change in the religious community with regard to slaveholding, or the treatment of coloured citizens. Still, we have hoped for the best, and indulged a belief that some beneficial change had taken place in the minds and hearts of those who take a leading part in these 'Union Prayer Meetings.' We believe that good has been done--that good is done--and would not say a word intentionally to subtract form the usefulness of these meetings; but there is something wrong in the conduct of the meetings, and the truth should be told.
Recently, Rev. John G. Fee, a well-known and distinguished anti-slavery minister of Kentucky, on a visit to this city, went to the Fulton Street meeting to mingle his prayers, and sympathies with the Christian people there assembled, without the slightest intention of giving offence, by speaking out of the abundance of his heart for the down-trodden slave, for whom he has suffered so much in his native State, and for whom, as a Christian and a man, he has long felt so much interest. He was filled with anguish that here, in a Northern Free State, at a union prayer meeting, in the midst of 'revival' Christians, so much repugnance was manifested when a few remarks were made by him, and a prayer offered by another minister for God's poor. But we give place to a statement of the case by Mr Fee himself, in a letter addressed to a friend in this city, merely saying, that if there is any man in the American church whose piety, gentleness, and sense of propriety, would entitle him to a hearing in a Christian assembly, it is John G. Fee. But here is the letter:--
'Being in your city, and having often heard of the Fulton Street prayer meetings, I felt that it would be a duty, and profitable for me to attend. Accordingly, with my daughter, and a Christian sister, just about to sail for missionary lands, I went to the meeting. After the lapse of some thirty minutes, prayer having been offered for the sons of a widowed mother, I arose and remarked that the petition of that mother affected me, but I remembered that in the land from whence I came, (Kentucky,) there are hundreds of mothers and widows whose sons wander, not from choice, but from constraint--that those mothers have the same tender solicitude for their offspring that this mother has for hers. I asked the prayers of God's people in behalf of those mothers and their offspring.
'I further stated that I and other ministerial brethren, were in that state, labouring to spread a religion, not of mere humanity, but one that first directed the soul to Christ as the only being that could satisfy the soul--that as certainly as that soul receives a compassionate and holy Jesus, the receiver must drop all things that are opposed to Christ, and that certainly human slavery is opposed to Christ. I remarked that in preaching this gospel we had many difficulties to contend with, and that we needed the prayers of God's people for ourselves, for the slave, for the master, for all.
'After a request had been made for prayers for a man, perhaps in China, Rev. D. F. Newton, of this city, rose and prayed for the man, for the heathen abroad, and for the missionaries there; for the slaves and their masters in Kentucky, and the missionaries there; for the people here, and that all might be filled with the Holy Ghost.
'At the close of the meeting, the superintendent, in company with brother Newton, came to me and said, "you transgressed our rules, no controverted subjects are to be discussed here." I inferred that he had reference to the petition for the slave, for that was the subject I had called attention to, and replied, "what I said, was no 'discussion.'" He remarked, "you are a stranger, and are forgiven; this man is not; he knew better." He was about to withdraw. I said, I do not wish to stand in an attitude different from that of brother Newton, for the simple reason that I do not think he did wrong; and now I wish to know if it is a rule that we cannot pray for the slave here." He replied, "You can pray for sinners." I said, "If slaveholders are not sinners, I would ask who are?" I then said, "When I go back to Kentucky, what shall I tell the people? Shall I tell them the poor slave cannot be prayed for here?" He replied, "You can pray for sinners." I said, "I do not believe the Spirit of God will abide with you, if you persist in refusing to pray for Christ's poor."
'I must say, I do not think the spirit of this man, was the spirit of the great mass of the congregation, for many looked upon me approvingly. Two of those remaining, when the rebuke was offered, replied afterward, "if a man cannot pray without being restricted, we had as well quit praying;" thus recognizing the truth that true Christians are led by the Spirit of God, and dare not in fidelity to God, say, they will not pray for the enslaved, since God has commanded us to "remember those in bonds as bound with them." If in our prayer meetings we may remember the drunkard and the rum-seller, why not remember the slave and slaveholder? Let those give an answer who can, or will.
'I believe those who meet at Fulton Street for prayer should in some way demonstrate to the world, that they have no approval of the course pursued by the superintendent.* Silence will be construed into consent, and if they shut out Christ in the person of the poor slave, they shut our Christ himself. So I understand the closing part of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew.--Yours truly,
'JOHN G. FEE.'
* I have not heard that this has been done.--H. H.
Finney's letter is as follows:
'REVIVALS AND SLAVERY IN AMERICA'
To the Editor.
BOLTON, LANCASHIRE, 31st Jan., 1860.
SIR,--In your issue of the 28th inst., I see an article under the caption, 'Revivals and Slavery in America,' upon which I beg leave to make a few remarks. The article alluded to comprehends--1. A note by the editor; 2. A note form H. Hill, of Oberlin, America; and 3. A published letter of Mr Fee, respecting a prayer-meeting he attended in New York city. The amount of Mr Fee's letter is that one man, as it happened on that day, the leader of the meeting, after the meeting, reproved him for introducing the question of praying for the slaves. Mr F. certifies, however, that, in making the request, he had the sympathy of the meeting with him, and also that a few who heard him reproved by this leader, condemned the reprover and justified the reproved. Mr Fee had also heard that coloured and white persons had hot equal privileges in this meeting. Mr Hill merely intimates his belief that the effects of the American revival are over-estimated in Great Britain. In your note, you mourn over these letters as 'confirming your worst fears' in regard to the character of that great work of God. I am glad if your worst fears have been no worse than are justified by these letters. But from the tone of your note, I fear you have drawn a broad, and sweeping, and uncharitable conclusion from very narrow premises. In regard to the note from your old friend Mr Hill, I beg leave to say that I know him well. He went direct from London to Oberlin, where he has resided ever since, and has been all this time, and now is, a member of the church of which I am pastor. He is a worthy man, very much absorbed with the antislavery movement, but in no position to have had any or scarcely personal knowledge of the recent great American revival, to which he manifestly alludes. Our Oberlin revivals have never been known or at all appreciated in this country. They have always made clean work on the question of slavery, and I am not aware that we have a pro-slavery member in our church. We are all anti-slavery. Now, to say the least, I have had a hundred times greater opportunities of forming an opinion in regard to the character and effects of the great revivals in America than my respected Mr Hill has, and I hold most decidedly, and most joyfully, an opposite opinion to that expressed by him. I know personally a great deal about the great revivals and the great reforms in America. I have been in the midst of them, and earnestly engaged in forwarding them for nearly forty years, whereas Mr Hill, I presume, has never seen a revival out of our little town. I can testify that both the temperance and the anti-slavery cause owe very much, yea, their very existence, to the influence of revivals. My brother Fee is a precious brother, who has done manful battle against that 'sum of villanies,' slaveholding, on the very soil where it exists, and at the peril of his life. But his testimony respects a prayer-meeting in the most conservative locality of the most conservative city of the North.
At this meeting in Fulton Street, there are, no doubt, in frequent attendance, slaveholders from the south. Lest these or some sympathisers with them should be offended, it appears that a distinction is made in this one place between blacks and whites. Now, from one fact you have drawn a general, or perhaps universal, conclusion, to your own grief, and to the grief and, I fear, the stumbling of your readers. Had an enemy drawn so general a conclusion from a particular premise, I could well account for it in the enmity of his heart against revivals. But how so sweeping and mournful a conclusion could have been drawn form only a solitary case, I am unable to divine. My brother, be of better courage. Do not, through your despondency, say what strongly tends to check the growing revival in this country, by casting suspicion upon that great work in America, the report of which has done and is doing much to arouse the attention and encourage the faith and effort of the churches of Great Britain. Mr Hill is a good man, but takes but a partial and narrow view of this question. He speaks, to be sure, of personal knowledge; but by this he cannot mean that he knows, from personal presence and observation, anything about either the facts, the character, or the effects of the great revival to which he alludes. On the contrary, I must bear an opposite testimony, from the fullest means of information. He thinks the people of Great Britain over-estimate that great revival. But he has not been here. I better understand the views of the churches of Great Britain, and must say, I do not think they by any means adequately understand or appreciate that greatest of all revivals that ever occurred. No well-informed man can doubt the great influence which the revivals of the present century have had in awakening the views and feelings that are so steadily advancing at the North to the annihilation of that horrid system of chattel-slavery. Cheer up, my brother, our American revivals have made a wonderful change for the better in every department of morals. Intemperance and every odious sin is giving way before them. Slaveholding is their giant opponent. But as truly as the Lord reigns, so truly shall our great revivals of religion, underlying and directing our political action, rid our country of this most detestable abomination. But for our revival, this sin would abolish our liberties, or we should abolish it with blood. But I trust that our revivals will work its abolition without blood, and in a manner that will save our Union, and be honourable to the cause of God. I shall not forget to say, that where I have laboured in revivals--and the places are not a few--I have seen the coloured people have the same freedom and privileges in all their social meetings with the white people. At the North, prejudice against them is fast subsiding. Isolated facts may be cited to discredit any reform, or revival, or church; but these exceptional cases do not justify sweeping general conclusions. Far from it. I hope your note, with the letters alluded to, may not work the mischief which they tended, though they were not intended, to do. God bless you, my brother. C. G. FINNEY.