To Edward Payson Marvin

20 December 1869


[MS in Finney Papers, Box 9 , Oberlin College Archives]


Oberlin 20th Dec.1869.

My Dear Brother Marvin.

Yours of the 13th is recd.

I can not say that we have any

particular hymns which we

use for the promotion of revivals.

{I have found in experience that

I must not lay much stress on

impressions produced by that

peculiar kind of singing

in general use in revivals.

It is an impression on the sensibility

more by far than on the intellect,

& hence to be used with care.

I have found that preaching

& conversation are the safest

instrumentalities to use for the

conversion of sinners. Song has

more to do with the devotional

feelings of christians than

with the conversion of sinners.

This is my experience. Song should

[page 2]

be used with much judgment

& caution even to touch the

feelings of christians at times

when "Zion is intavail."

I never knew a christian in

travail of soul to incline to

singing.} After the children

are born song is natural

& useful, but while the

pains of travail continue

song is unnatural, injurious,

dangerous, as it tends strongly

to divert the soul from its agonizing

struggle before it has prevailed.

{It is easy to sing away the spirit

of agonizing & prevailing prayer.}

No leader of a prayer meeting

who is himself in travail of soul

for sinners will introduce much

singing. It is unnatural, & even

painful to him while the

anguish of travail is upon

him. When he has prevailed,

[page 3]

& the souls for whom he prayed

in such anguish are born

of God, he will sing. It is

only those who are not in travail

who really are not in the work &

are not in travail that feel like

singing. We have here a great deal

of singing & of good singing,

as we have two professors of music

& a musical conservatory

connected with our college.

We also are almost always

having what, in other places,

would be a revival, but

which is not more than a

common state of religious

interest here. We sing many of

the hymns which I see you have,

but we have very little of what

in other places they call chorus

singing. We have not so much of

this as I often wish we had.

Our trained choirs are mostly

[page 4]

singing new tunes & commit

to memory very few tunes so

as to be able to sing them without

their note books. Every new note

book they must have & sing them

through. The books & the singers are

frequently changed, & if I want

a particular piece or hymn

sung at any moment, it is

seldom that our choir can

sing it unless the particular

book that has it, is on hand.

{But I never, any where have found

myself able to use the usual

revival hymns, without much

caution. If used without discre

tion they let down the tone & power

of a revival, sing away conviction

of sin & travail of soul & render

the work superficial & evanescent.

Keep song in its place & it is good.

But a singing revivalist will in eternity

if not in time learn his mistake.} I am

an old music teacher & leader & am very fond


[page 1, along the left margin]

of sining. But above I have given my experience of nearly 50 years

of revival labor. God bless you.

C. G. Finney.



This letter is not in the Finney Papers.

The section following, and later sections, enclosed in brackets { }, are marked off in pencil in the margin of the manuscript. This may have been done by Marvin to indicate to a publisher which sections to copy; or, perhaps, so that he could easily locate extracts to quote when giving an address.

Finney had evidently meant to write Zion is in travail. This is not an exact quotation from the Bible. Compare Micah 4:10: "Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail;" and Isaiah 66:8: "... for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children."

Finney is reiterating here what he had elaborated upon in one of his "Lectures on Revivals of Religion" published in 1835, about the effect of singing on prayer meetings. He may have been reminded of that, having recently re-read the book.

That section in the "Lectures" was examined by William W. Patton in an article on "Singing Revivals" published in The Independent (New York), 21 September 1876, pp. 6-7. Patton was seeking to defend the new fashion of revival singing and the success of evangelists like Moody and Sankey, and Whittle and Bliss, although at the same time warning his readers of the pertinence of some of Finney's criticisms.

This word is not clear on the photocopy of the letter.

Finney's omission of the g from singing looks like a Freudian slip.