By Rev. Asa Mahan
FINNEY'S HIGHER LIFE EXPERIENCE IN 1843.
CHARLES G. FINNEY'S MEMOIRS.
ANOTHER WINTER IN BOSTON.
Fall 1843 to March 1844.
Together with his teaching on how receive it in quotes from:
PRAYER FOR A PURE HEART.
THE OBERLIN EVANGELIST.
March 14, 1849.
In the fall of 1843, I was called again to Boston During this winter, the Lord gave my own soul a very thorough overhauling, and a fresh baptism of His Spirit. I boarded at the Marlborough hotel, and my room in one corner of the chapel building. I had my study there, and adjoining my study a bedroom. My mind was greatly drawn out in prayer, for a long time; as indeed it always has been, when I have labored in Boston. I have been favored there, uniformly, with a great deal of the Spirit of prayer. But this winter, in particular, my mind was exceedingly exercised on the question of personal holiness; and in respect to the state of the church, their want of power with God, and the weakness of the Orthodox churches in Boston, the weakness of their faith, and their want of power in the midst of such a community. The fact that they were making little or no progress in overcoming the errors of the city, greatly affected my mind.
I gave myself to a great deal of prayer. After my evening services, I would retire as early as I well could; but rose up at four O'clock in the morning, because I could sleep no longer, and immediately went to the study, and engaged in prayer. And so deeply was my mind exercised, and so absorbed in prayer, that I frequently continued from the time I arose at four O'clock, till the gong called to breakfast, at eight O'clock. My days were spent, so far as I could get timefor I had a great deal of company coming constantly to see mein searching the Scriptures. I read nothing else, all that winter, but my Bible; and a great deal of it seemed new to me. Again the Lord took me, as it were, from Genesis to Revelation. He led me to see the connection of thingshow things predicted in the Old Testament had come out in the New Testamentthe promises, threatenings, the prophecies and their fulfillment;and indeed, the whole Scripture seemed to me all ablaze with light, and not only light, but it seemed as if God's Word was instinct with the very life of God.
After praying in this way for weeks and months, one morning while I was engaged in prayer, the thought occurred to me, what if, after all this divine teaching, my will is not carried, and this teaching takes effect only in my sensibility? May it not be that my sensibility is affected, by these revelations from reading the Bible, and that my heart is not really subdued by them? At this point several passages of scripture occurred to me, much as this: "Line must be upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little, that they might go and fall backward, and be snared and taken." The thought that I might be deceiving myself by the states of my sensibility, when it first occurred to me, stung me almost like an adder. It created a pang that I cannot describe. The passages of Scripture that occurred to me, in that direction, for a few moments greatly increased my distress. But directly I was enabled to fall back upon the perfect will of God. I said to the Lord, that if He saw it was wise and best, and that His honor demanded that I should be left to be deluded, and go down to hell, I accepted His will, and I said to Him, "Do with me as seemeth Thee good."
Just before this occurrence, I had had a great struggle to consecrate myself to God, in a higher sense than I had ever before seen to be my duty, or conceived as possible. I had often before, laid my family all upon the altar of God, and left them to be disposed of at His discretion. But at this time that I now speak of, and previously to my finally accepting the will of God, I had had a great struggle about giving up my wife to the will of God. She was in very feeble health, and it was very evident that she could not live long. I about that time had a dream about my wife that had opened the way for the struggle of which I speak. After that dream I attempted to lay her upon the altar, as I had often before done. But I had never before seen so clearly, what was implied in laying her, and all that I possessed, upon the altar of God; and for hours I struggled upon my knees, to give her up unqualifiedly to the will of God. But I found myself unable to do it. I was so shocked and surprised at this, that I perspired profusely with agony. I struggled and prayed until I was exhausted, and found myself entirely unable to give her altogether up to God's will, in such a way as to make no objection to His disposing of her just as He pleased.
This troubled me much. I wrote to my wife, telling her what a struggle I had had, and the concern that I had felt at not being willing to commit her unqualifiedly to the perfect will of God. This was but a very short time before I had this temptation, as it now seems to me to have been, of which I have spoken, when those passages of Scripture came up distressingly to my mind, and when the bitterness, almost of death seemed, for a few moments, to possess me, at the thought that my religion might be of the Sensibility only, and that God's teaching might have taken effect only in my feeling. But as I said, I was enabled, after struggling for a few moments with this discouragement and bitterness, which I have since attributed to a fiery dart of Satan, to fall back, in a deeper sense than I had ever done before upon the infinitely blessed and perfect will of God. I then told the Lord that I had such confidence in Him, that I felt perfectly willing, to give myself, my wife and my family, and all to be disposed of without qualification according to His own views and will. That if He thought it best and wise to send me to hell, to do so, and I would consent to it. As to my wife, I felt also entirely willing to lay her, body and soul, upon the altar, without the least misgiving in my mind in delivering her up to the perfect will of God.
I then had a deeper view of what was implied in consecration to God, than I ever had before. I spent a long time upon my knees, in considering the matter all over, and giving up everything to the will of God; the interests of the church, the progress of religion, the conversion of the world, and the salvation or damnation of my own soul, as the will of God might decide. Indeed I recollect, that I went so far as to say to the Lord, with all my heart, that He might do anything with me or mine, to which His blessed will could consent. That I had such perfect confidence in His goodness and love, as to believe that He could consent to do nothing, to which I could object. I felt a kind of holy boldness, in telling Him to do with me just as seemed to Him good. That He could not do anything that was not perfectly wise and good; and therefore I had the best of grounds for accepting whatever He could consent to in respect to me and mine. So deep and perfect a resting in the will of God I had never before known.
What has appeared strange to me is this, that I could not get hold of my former hope; nor could I recollect with any freshness any of the former seasons of communion and divine assurance that I had experienced. I may say that I gave up my hope, and rested everything upon a new foundation. I mean I gave up my hope from any past experience, and recollect telling the Lord, that I did not know whether He intended to save me or not. Nor did I feel concerned to know. I was willing to abide the event. I said that if I found that He kept me, and worked in me by His Spirit, and was preparing me for heaven, working holiness and eternal life in my soul, I should take it for granted that He intended to save me; that if, on the other hand, I found myself empty of divine strength and light and love, I should conclude that He saw it wise and expedient to send me to hell; and that in either event I would accept His will. My mind settled into a perfect stillness.
This was early in the morning; and through the whole of that day, I seemed to be in a state of perfect rest, body and soul. The question frequently arose in my mind, during the day, "Do you still adhere to your consecration, and abide in the will of God?" I said without hesitation, "Yes, I take nothing back. I have no reason for taking anything back; I went no farther in pledges and professions than was reasonable. I have no reason for taking anything back;I do not want to take anything back." The thought that I might be lost did not distress me. Indeed, think as I might during that whole day, I could not find in my mind the least fear, the least disturbing emotion. Nothing troubled me. I was neither elated nor depressed; I was neither, as I could see, joyful or sorrowful. My confidence in God was perfect, my acceptance of His will was perfect, and my mind was as calm as heaven.
Just at evening, the question arose in my mind, "What if God should send me to hell,what then?" "Why, I would not object to it." "But can He send a person to hell," was the next inquiry, "who accepts His will in the sense in which you do?" This inquiry was no sooner raised in my mind than settled. I said, "No, it is impossible. Hell could be no hell to me, if I accepted God's perfect will." This sprung a vein of joy in my mind, that kept developing more and more, for weeks and months, and indeed I may say, for years. For years my mind was too full of joy to feel much exercised with anxiety on any subject. My prayer that had been so fervent, and protracted during so long a period, seemed all to run out into, "Thy will be done." It seemed as if my desires were all met. What I had been praying for for myself, I had received in a way that I least expected. Holiness to the Lord seemed to be inscribed on all the exercises of my mind. I had such strong faith that God would accomplish all His perfect will, that I could not be careful about anything. The great anxieties about which my mind had been exercised, during my seasons of agonizing prayer, seemed to be set aside; so that for a long time, when I went to God, to commune with Himas I did very, very frequentlyI would fall on my knees, and find it impossible to ask for anything, with any earnestness except that His will might be done in earth as it was done in heaven. My prayers were swallowed up in that; and I often found myself smiling, as it were, in the face of God, and saying that I did not want anything. I was very sure that He would accomplish all His wise and good pleasure; and with that my soul was entirely satisfied.
Here I lost that great struggle in which I had been engaged for so long a time, and began to preach to the congregation in accordance with this my new and enlarged experience. There was a considerable number in the church, and that attended my preaching, who understood me; and they saw from my preaching what had been, and what was, passing in my mind. I presume the people were more sensible than I was myself, of the great change in my manner of preaching. Of course, my mind was too full of the subject to preach anything except a full and present salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At this time it seemed as if my soul was wedded to Christ, in a sense in which I had never had any thought or conception of before. The language of the Song of Solomon, was as natural to me as my breath. I thought I could understand well the state of mind he was in when he wrote that song; and concluded then, as I have ever thought since, that that song was unwritten by him, after he had been reclaimed from his great backsliding. I not only had all the freshness of my first love, but a vast accession to it. Indeed the Lord lifted me so much above anything that I had experienced before, and taught me so much of the meaning of the Bible, of Christ's relations and power and willingness, that I often found myself saying to Him, "I had not known or conceived that any such thing was true." I then realized what is meant by the saying, "that he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." He did at that time teach me, indefinitely above all that I had ever asked or thought. I had had no conception of the length and breadth, and height and depth, and efficiency of his grace. It seemed then to me that that passage, "My grace is sufficient for thee," meant so much, that it was wonderful I had never understood it before. I found myself exclaiming, "Wonderful!" "Wonderful!" "Wonderful!" as these revelations were made to me. I could understand then what was meant by the prophet when he said, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace."
I spent nearly all the remaining part of the winter, till I was obliged to return home, in instructing the people in regard to the fullness there was in Christ. But I found that I preached over the heads of the masses of the people. They did not understand me. There was, indeed, a goodly number that did; and they were wonderfully blessed in their souls, and made more progress in the divine life, as I have reason to believe, than in all their lives before. But the little church that was formed there was not composed of materials that could, to any considerable extent, work healthfully and efficiently together. The outside opposition to them was great. The mass even of professors of religion in the city, did not sympathize with them at all. The people of the churches generally were in no state to receive my views of sanctification; and although there were individuals in nearly all the churches, who were deeply interested and greatly blessed, yet as a general thing the testimony that I bore was unintelligible to them.
Some of them could see where I was. One evening I recollect that Deacon Proctor and Deacon Safford, after hearing my preaching, and seeing the effect upon the congregation, came up to me after I came out of the pulpit and said, "Why, you are a great way ahead of us in this city, and a great way ahead of our ministers. How can we get our ministers to come and hear these truths?" I replied, "I do not know. But I wish they could see things as I do; for it does seem to me infinitely important that there should be a higher standard of holiness in Boston." They said it was; and seemed exceedingly anxious to have those truths laid before the people in general. They were good men, as the Boston people well know; but what pains they really took, to get their ministers and people to attend, I cannot say.
I labored that winter mostly for a revival of religion among Christians. The Lord prepared me to do so by the great work He wrought in my own soul. Although I had much of the divine life working within me; yet, as I said, so far did what I experienced that winter exceed all that I had before experienced, that at times I could not realize that I had ever before been truly in communion with God.
To be sure I had been, often and for a long time; and this I knew when I reflected upon it, and remembered through what I had so often passed. It appeared to me, that winter as if it is probably when we get to heaven, our views and joys, and holy exercises, will so far surpass anything that we have ever experienced in this life, that we shall be hardly able to recognize the fact that we had any religion, while in this world. I had in fact oftentimes experienced inexpressible joys, and very deep communion with God; but all this had fallen so into the shade, under my enlarged experience that winter, that frequently I would tell the Lord that I had never before had any conception of the wonderful things revealed in His blessed Gospel, and the wonderful grace there is in Christ Jesus. This language, I knew when I reflected upon it, was comparative; but still all my former experiences, for the time, seemed to be sealed up, and almost lost sight of.
As the great excitement of that season subsided, my mind became more calm. I saw more clearly the different steps of my Christian experience, and came to recognize the connection of things, as all wrought by God from beginning to end. But since then I have never had those great struggles, and long protracted seasons of agonizing prayer before I could get hold of full rest in God, that I had often experienced. Since then it is quite another thing to prevail with God in my own experience, from what it was before. I can come to God with more calmness, because with more perfect confidence. He enables me now to rest in Him, and let everything sink into His perfect will, with much more readiness than ever before the experience of that winter.
I have felt since then a religious freedom, a religious buoyancy and delight in God and in His Word, a steadiness of faith, a Christian liberty and overflowing love, that I had only experienced, I may say, occasionally before that. I do not mean that such exercises had been rare to me before; for they had been frequent and often repeated, but never abiding as they have been since. My bondage seemed to be at that time entirely broken; and since then I have had the freedom of a child with a loving parent. It seems to me that I can find God within me in such a sense that I can rest upon Him and be quiet, lay my heart in his Hand, and nestle down in His perfect will and have no carefulness or anxiety.
I speak of these exercises as habitual since that period; but I cannot affirm that they have been altogether unbroken, for in 1860, during a fit of sickness, I had a season of great depression and wonderful humiliation. But the Lord brought me out of it, into an established peace and rest.
A few years after this season of refreshing in Boston of which I speak, that beloved wife of whom I have spoken, died. This was to me a great affliction. However I did not feel any murmuring, or the least resistance to the will of God. I gave her up to God, without any resistance whatever, that I can recollect. But it was to me a great sorrow. The night after she died, I was lying in my lonely bed, and some Christian friends were sitting up in the parlor and watching out the night. I had been asleep for a little while and awoke, and the thought of my bereavement flashed over my mind with such power! My wife was gone! I should never hear her speak again, nor see her face! Her children were motherless! What should I do? My brain seemed to reel, as if my mind would swing from its pivot. I rose instantly from my bed exclaiming, "I shall be deranged if I cannot rest in God!" The Lord soon calmed my mind for that night; but still at times seasons of sorrow would come over me that were almost overwhelming.
One day I was upon my knees communing with God upon the subject, and all at once he seemed to say to me, "You loved your wife?" "Yes," I said. "Well, did you love her for her own sake, or for your sake? Did you love her, or yourself? If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with Me? Should not her happiness with Me, make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake?" "Did you love her," He seemed to say to me, "for my sake? If you loved her for my sake, surely you would not grieve that she is with me. Why do you think of your loss, and lay so much stress upon that, instead of thinking of her gain? Can you be sorrowful when she is so joyful and happy? If you loved her for her own sake, would you not rejoice in her joy, and be happy in her happiness?"
I can never describe the feelings that came over me when I seemed to be thus addressed. It produced an instantaneous change in the whole state of my mind in regard to the loss of my wife. From that moment sorrow on account the event was gone forever. I no longer thought of her as dead, but as alive and in the midst of the glories of heaven. My faith was at this time so strong and my mind so enlightened, that it seemed as if I could enter into the very state of mind in which she was in heaven; and if there is any such thing as communing with an absent spirit, or with one who is in heaven, I seemed to commune with her. Not that I ever supposed she was present in such a sense that I at that time communed personally with her. But it seemed as if I knew what her state of mind was there, what profound, unbroken rest, in the perfect will of God. I could see that was heaven, and I experienced it in my own soul. And I have never to this day got over of these views. They frequently recur to me,as the very state of mind in which the inhabitants of heaven are, and I can see why they are in such a state of mind.
My wife had died in a heavenly frame of mind. Her rest in God was so perfect that it seemed to me that after she was dead she only entered into a fuller apprehension of the love and faithfulness of God, so as to confirm and perfect forever her trust in God and her union with His will. These are experiences in which I have lived a great deal since that time. But in preaching I have found that nowhere can I preach those truths on which my own soul delights to live, and be understood, except it be by a very small number. Much as that subject has been dwelt upon here, I have never found that more than a very few, even of our own people, appreciate and receive those views of God and Christ, and the fullness of His present salvation, upon which my own soul still delights to feed. Everywhere I am obliged to come down to where the people are, in order to make them understand me; and in every place where I have preached for many years, I have found the churches in so low a state as to be utterly incapable of apprehending and appreciating what I regard as the most precious truths of the whole Gospel.
When preaching to impenitent sinners I am obliged, of course, to go back to first principles. In my own experience I have so long passed these outposts and first principles, that I cannot live upon those truths. I however have to preach them to the impenitent to secure their conversion. When I preach the Gospel, I can preach the atonement, conversion, and many of the prominent views of the Gospel that are appreciated and accepted by those who are young in the religious life; and by those also who have been long in the church of God, and have made very little advancement in the knowledge of Christ. But it is only now and then that I find it really profitable to the people of God to pour out to them the fullness that my own soul sees in Christ. In this place there is a larger number of persons by far that understand me and devour that class of truths, than in any other place that I ever saw; but even here the majority of professors of religion do not understandingly embrace those truths. They do not object, they do not oppose; and so far as they understand, they are convinced. But as a matter of experience they are ignorant of the power of the highest and most precious truths of the Gospel of salvation, in Christ Jesus.
This was not my last winter by any means in Boston. I have much more to say, in another place, of revivals there. As to the number of conversions in that city that winter, I cannot speak other than to say that they must have been upon the whole numerous, as I was visited in my room almost constantly from day to day by inquirers from different parts of the city. However, as I have said, I think the greater number of inquirers that winter were professors of religion, whose minds were stirred up mightily to inquire after a higher Christian life.