Life of Charles G. Finney

By Aaron Hills

Chapter 6


Returning from the Synod at Utica, Finney met Mr. Gale, his old teacher, who insisted that he stop and preach, or at least make him a visit.. Gale had lost his health, and was living in the country near the village of Western. The Presbyterian Church had no stated preaching at all, and no pastor. He was in time to attend the Thursday evening prayer-meeting, led by one of the elders. Each elder made a long prayer, which was a mournful wail, telling the Lord how many years they had their prayer-meeting with no answer to their prayers, -- by implication throwing the responsibility on God for their barrenness of soul. This stirred Finney to the heart. He arose, took their confessions for a text. He says, "God inspired me to give them a terrible searching." He asked them whether they had come together professedly to mock God. "They all wept, confessed, and broke their hearts before God," and begged him to remain and preach on the Sabbath. On Friday his "mind was greatly exercised." He spent the day in prayer, "and got a mighty hold upon God." "Sunday the house was packed," and he preached, and "God came down with power upon the people," and everybody realized that a revival was on them. He made an appointment to preach in different parts of the town. The startling experiences of previous revivals were repeated here, and the work swept out farther and farther, until the people were attending his meetings from Rome.


Rev. Moses Gillett, then a pastor there, came to hear Finney. After the second visit he said to him: "Brother Finney, it seems to me that I have a new Bible. I never before understood the promises as I do now. My mind is full of the subject, and the promises are new to me." This led Finney to see that God was preparing that pastor for a great work among his people. Rev. Gillett arranged for an exchange, which Finney was reluctant to grant. But he went, and preached three times on Sunday. The Word took immediate effect, and heads bowed before the Lord in the deepest conviction. Monday morning the pastor returned, and, by the advice of Finney, appointed an inquiry-meeting, Without letting people know that Finney would be there, To his surprise and great agitation he found a room packed, and the leading members and foremost young men of his congregation there, and "the feeling was so deep that there was danger of an outburst that would be almost uncontrollable." This Finney always endeavored to avoid as a thing that hindered the action of the soul. He spoke a few calm, quiet words; but the stoutest men writhed in their seats. "It would not be possible," he wrote, "for one who had never witnessed such a scene to realize what the force of the truth sometimes is, under the power of the Holy Ghost, It was indeed a two-edged sword. The pain that it produced, when searchingly presented in a few words of conversation, would create a distress that seemed unendurable."

The pastor, unaccustomed to such a sight, turned pale, and said, "What shall we do? What shall we do?" Finney put his hand on Brother Gillett's shoulder, and whispered, "Keep quiet." "He then, in a few words, pointed the convicted to Jesus; stopped short, and led them in prayer in a low, unimpassioned voice, but interceded with the Savior to interpose His blood then and there, and to lead all these sinners to accept the salvation which He proffered, and to believe to the saving of their souls." He rose from his knees, and said: "Now please go home without speaking a word to each other; try to keep silent, and do not break out into any manifestation of feeling, but go to your rooms." Careful as he was, a young man fell to the floor, and several of his companions then fell around him. The people went sobbing and sighing into the street. The next morning people were calling from every direction for Finney and the pastor to visit their families. As they went into a house) the people would rush in and fill the largest room. In some houses they would find people kneeling, and others prostrate on the floor. In The afternoon the large dining-room of the hotel was crammed to its utmost capacity. The state of things was extraordinary. Men of the strongest nerves were cut down and helpless, and had to be carried home. The meeting lasted till nearly midnight, and a great number were hopefully converted. The court-house was opened and crowded daily. Ministers rushed in from neighboring towns, and were filled with amazement at what they saw. Nearly all the professional men and prominent citizens embraced religion. An opposer fell dead. Rev. Gillett's whole congregation were converted, and he afterward reported that in twenty days five hundred were converted in Rome.

The effect of this revival was also felt in outlying settlements, in some of which all the people were converted. For months a sunrise prayer-meeting was maintained, and was largely attended. Open immorality was banished. So pervasive and permanent was the influence that Mr. Gillett said it did not seem like the same place.


A great excitement sprung up in Utica over this work. The most prominent citizen of Rome was president of a bank in Utica. He was not a Christian. The first time he heard Finney he told his family, "That man is mad, and I should not be surprised if he set the town on fire." He would not go to the meetings, but they went on. At a meeting of the directors of the bank, one of them rallied him on the condition of things at Rome. He responded: "Gentlemen, say what you will, there is something very remarkable in the state of things at Rome. Certainly no human power or eloquence has produced what we see there. I can not understand it. You say it will soon subside. No doubt the intensity of feeling that is now in Rome will soon subside, or the people will become insane. But, gentlemen, there is no accounting for that state of feeling by any philosophy, unless there be something Divine in it." The banker was soon converted.

The county sheriff came from Utica to Rome on business. He said as soon as he crossed the old canal a strange impression came over him, an awe so deep that he could not shake it off. He felt as if God pervaded the whole atmosphere. The hostler of the hotel appeared to feel the same. He said everybody else appeared to feel just as he did. Such an awe, such a solemnity, such a state of things, he had never had any conception of before. He got out of town as soon as possible, but was converted a few Weeks later at Utica.

The minister's wife, a sister of the famous missionary Mills, whose zeal led to the formation of the American Board of Foreign Missions, was converted. She was under awful conviction for many days, until it was feared she would go insane. She finally found pardon, and rushed out of her room with her face all in a glow, exclaiming: "O, Mr. Finney! I have found the Savior I have found the Savior! Don't you think that it was the ornaments in my hair that stood in the way of my conversion? I found when I prayed they would come up before me. I was driven to desperation. I said, 'I will not have these things come up again.. I will put them away from me forever.' As soon as I had promised that, the Lord revealed Himself to my soul."

These marvelous occurrences were all reported in Utica, A woman in that town was also given such a burden of prayer for the ungodly in the city that she prayed for two days and nights incessantly, until her strength was overcome by exhaustion, -- a literal travail of soul, It was God's Spirit preparing the way for the coming of His servant. The pastor, Dr. Aiken, of one of the Presbyterian Churches, invited Finney to preach in his church.. The Word took immediate effect, and the place became filled with the manifested influence of the Holy Spirit. The work spread and moved on powerfully. The sheriff was among the first to be converted. At once the leading hotel, where he boarded, became a center of religious work. The stages stopped there, and travelers, in many instances, stopping for a meal or over night, would get convicted and converted before leaving. Merchants from neighboring villages, coming to town to trade, would get mad because everybody in the stores talked religion; but they themselves would soon be in anguish of soul and bowing to God.

A proud and cultured schoolteacher in Newburg heard of the wonderful work in Rome and Utica, and dismissed her school for two weeks to see it for herself. She got under powerful conviction, and was wonderfully converted. She soon afterward married a Mr. Gulick, and went with him as a missionary to the Sandwich Islands, where she did a great work for Christ.'.

The Oneida Presbytery met during the revival, and a minister, on the afternoon of the closing day, made a violent speech against the revival, which greatly shocked and grieved the Christians present. They gave themselves to prayer, and there was a great crying to God that he would counteract the evil influence of that speech. The next morning the minister who made it was found dead in his bed.


The brother-in-law of Mr. Finney was superintendent of a cotton factory in a neighboring village, now called New York Mills. Finney, by invitation, went there, and preached an evening sermon in a schoolhouse, It was crowded, especially with mill-operatives, The Word took powerful effect. The next morning, after breakfast, Finney went into the factory to look through it.

He observed, as he was passing along in silence, a good deal of agitation among those who were busy at the looms and other implements of work. In one room were many young women. Finney could see that they were excitedly talking about him. One was trying to mend a broken thread, but her hand trembled so that she could not tie it. "When I came within eight or ten feet of her I looked solemnly at her. She observed it, and was quite overcome, and sank down, and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like powder, and in a few moments all in the room were in tears. The feeling spread through the factory. The owner of the establishment was present, and, seeing the condition of things, though not a Christian, he said to the superintendent, 'Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory should run.'" The factory was immediately stopped, the hands were assembled in the largest room, and Finney spoke to them. "A more powerful meeting," he says, "I scarcely ever attended. The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in a few days nearly all were converted." There were hundreds working in this mill.

A young man of unusual gifts in Hamilton College, who afterwards became quite famous, Theodore Weld by name, came over to inspect the meetings, declaring it was all fanaticism, and boasting to his college-mates that he would not be moved. He heard Finney but once, when he met him and abused him for an hour in a most shameful manner. Finney said a few words to him about his soul, and left him. That night he spent by turns walking the floor and prostrate in agony, angry and rebellious, yet so convicted that he could hardly live. Just at daylight a pressure came upon him that crushed him down to the floor. He finally gave his heart to God, went the next night to the meeting, and made a humble confession, and from that time became a very efficient helper, and for years was a mighty winner of souls.

This revival spread from Rome and Utica as a center in all directions, as Finney circled out. Of five hundred conversions in one place, there was not a case of apostasy after eight months. A pamphlet was published by a Presbyterian minister describing the revival, and stating that there were three thousand converts within the bounds of the Presbytery. Probably more thorough conversions never took place under any preacher in the history of the Christian Church.

Finney stops in his Memoirs to tell us what he preached that God so blessedly used. It were well if all preachers would, note them well:

"The doctrines preached in these revivals were those I always preached. Instead of telling sinners to use the means of grace and pray for a new heart, we called on them to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, and pressed the duty of instant surrender to God. We told them the Spirit was striving with them to induce them now to give Him their hearts, now to believe, and to enter at once upon a life of devotion to Christ, of faith, and love, and Christian obedience. We taught them that, while they were praying for the Holy Spirit, they were constantly resisting Him, and that if they would at once yield to their own convictions of duty, they would be Christians. We tried to show them that everything they did or said before they had submitted, believed, given their hearts to God, was all sin, was not that which God required them to do, but was simply deferring repentance and resisting the Holy Ghost.

"Such teaching as this was, of course, opposed by many; nevertheless it was greatly blessed by the Spirit of God. Formerly it had been supposed necessary that a sinner should remain under conviction a long time; and it was not uncommon to hear old professors of religion say that they were under conviction many months or years before they found relief; and they evidently had the impression that the longer they were under conviction, the greater was the evidence that they were truly converted. We taught the opposite of this. I insisted that if they remained long under conviction, they were in danger of becoming self-righteous, in the sense that they would think that they had prayed a great while and done a great deal to persuade God to save them; and that finally they would settle down with a false hope; We told them that under this protracted conviction they were in danger of grieving the Spirit of God away, and when their distress of mind ceased, a reaction would naturally take place; they would feel less distress, and perhaps obtain a degree of comfort from which they were in danger of inferring that they were converted; that the bare thought that they were possibly converted might create a degree of joy and peace; and that this state of mind might still further delude them by being taken as evidence that they were converted.

"We tried thoroughly to dispose of this false teaching. We insisted then, as I have ever done since, on immediate submission as the only thing that God could accept at their hands, and that all delay, under any pretext whatever, was rebellion against God. It became very common under my preaching for persons to be convicted and converted in the course of a few hours, and sometimes in the course of a few minutes. Such sudden conversions were alarming to many good people; and, of course, they predicted that the converts would fall away, and prove not to be soundly converted. But. the event proved that among those sudden conversions were some of the most influential Christians that have ever been in that region of country. This has been my experience through all my ministry."


It was in the summer of 1826. Dr. Lansing, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Auburn, came to Utica to witness the revival, and urged Finney to go out and labor with him. He did so. He soon found that some of the professors in the theological seminary in that place were taking an attitude of hostility to the revival. We shall speak of this opposition of ministers in a chapter by itself. It is an interesting phase of all progressive work in the kingdom of God.

In Auburn, as in other places, God was with His faithful servant. A prominent physician, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, was felled to the floor by the Holy Spirit coming upon him. A Universalist bitterly opposed the work, as they invariably did, and forbade his wife to attend the meetings. The poor wife wrestled in prayer for her husband, and he was led by the Spirit to invite her to go with him to church. Finney knew nothing of this. He had been visiting and laboring with inquirers all day, and he reached the pulpit, as he often did in those days, without either sermon or text. During the introductory service a text occurred to his mind from which he had never preached. It was the words of the man with an unclean spirit, who cried out, "Let us alone." God helped him to depict in a most vivid manner the conduct of sinners who wanted to be let alone, and tried to keep others from God. In the midst of the discourse the Universalist fell from his seat, and cried out in such a terrific manner that all preaching was at an end. He wept aloud, and confessed his sins in a way that brought tears and sobs to nearly every one in the house. The Universalist was soon rejoicing in conscious pardon.

Dr. Lansing's Church members were much conformed to the world, and were accused by the unconverted of being leaders in dress, and fashion, and worldliness. Finney, as usual, directed his preaching so as to secure the reformation of the Church. One Sabbath he preached on that line as searchingly as he was able, and then called upon the pastor to pray. The pastor was so much impressed with the sermon that he supplemented the discourse with an earnest appeal to the people. Just then a man arose in the gallery, and said in a distinct tone: "Mr. Lansing, I do not believe that such remarks from you can do any good while you wear a ruffled shirt and a gold ring, and while your wife and the ladies of your family sit, as they do before the congregation, dressed as leaders in the fashions of the day." It seemed as if this would kill Dr. Lansing outright. He cast himself over the pulpit, and wept like a child. The people almost universally dropped their heads upon the seat in front of them, and many wept on every side, With the exception of the sobs and sighs, the house was profoundly silent.

Dr. Lansing was a good man. He had worn ruffled shirts from childhood; his ring was very small, and given him by his dying wife with the request that he would wear it for her sake. He had done so without a thought of its being a stumbling-block, But he said, "If these things are an offense, I will not wear them." The Church had a public confession of their backsliding and want of a Christian spirit written, and they stood while it was read, many of them in tears. It is needless to say that Church was revived. The revival spread to Cayuga, and to Skaneateles, and to other places.


Rev. Dr. Beeman and his session invited Finney to come and labor with them in Troy. He spent the autumn and winter of 1826 in that city and vicinity. We have few incidents recorded; for Mr. Finney, in his Memoirs, soon begins to tell us of the opposition of the preachers, which we will relate in the next chapter. He does tell us that the revival was powerful in that city; that the Presbytery put Dr. Beeman on trial during the revival, and he was acquitted of all charges against him; that the failure of the effort to break down Dr. Beeman considerably discomfited the outside movement to break down the revival; that Christian people continued praying mightily to God; and he (Finney) kept up preaching and praying incessantly, and the revival went on with increasing power; that Mr. 5 -- , cashier of a bank in that city, was so pressed by the spirit of prayer for the conversion of the president of the bank that, when the meeting closed, he could not rise from his knees. The president was soon after converted. These incidents are of exceeding value as showing the large place which prayer held in the revivals under Finney.


A young lady from New Lebanon; Columbia County, came to Troy during the revival to purchase a dress for a ball. A cousin, lately converted, urged her to attend the meetings and hear Finney. At first she was full of enmity of heart, but soon became deeply convicted, then thoroughly converted. She returned home, not to participate in a ball, but to prepare the Church for Finney to come and hold a revival. It started in her own home with her father, who was an elder of the Presbyterian Church. "Most of the prominent men in the community were converted." A young man by the name of John T. Avery was converted, who afterward became a minister and a celebrated evangelist, and who labored in a Church of which I was a member in my boyhood, about 1860.

This was in the late spring and early summer of 1827. For a little time God had withdrawn His precious servant from the strive. of tongues and the opposition that was rolling up against him, and rejoiced his heart by another harvest of souls.