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By Celia Rosella (Doolittle) Ladd.
[ Retyped for the Internet by Rick Friedrich in 06/99
It would seem like presumption to attempt to add anything of interest to all that has been written of this remarkable life.
But does it not add force to the most ordinary narrative to be able to say "I knew the man."
It often pleases God to magnify his grace and get to himself all the glory by choosing for his service the most unlikely instruments.
According to his own statement his life, as a young man, was so wild and Godless, the christian people in the community where he lived were told "If you can get Finney converted we will believe there is something to prayer." One writer has said that his conversion was no less remarkable than that of St. Paul. Struck down by the power of God he lay unconscious for hours. Awakening from that slumber he was so filled with the spirit, that his words, and even his presence brought conviction to the hearts of the unsaved. A neighbor of mine who had known of his early work in Western New York said that workmen in the streets, drooping their tools and running, when asked the cause would reply, "Finney is preaching."
I have heard him say that he had conducted some of the greatest revivals that he had ever seen or ever heard of. His labors extended to both continents. During a long life he blew the Gospel trumpet with a mighty and convincing power seldom equalled.
Let me turn back the pages of memory and picture him as I first say him many years ago. Tall and commanding he stood erect in spite of his years and seemed much younger than he really was. Though nearly eighty years of age he was still preaching with power and with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. No one could listen to his earnest message and heart stirring appeals without realizing that in him was fulfilled the promise. "He shall bring forth fruit in old age."
One who had had the opportunity of hearing the world's great orators said she had never heard any one so eloquent as Pres. Finney in his prime.
In advanced years he had not the physical strength to speak with as much fire and force, but was greatly softened and mellowed in his spirit from the time when, in his full strength, he thundered in his might.
The message of St. John seemed to be his, "Little children love one another." His fatherly manner of addressing the students was, "How do you do, My child."
Even now my heart is touched when I think how tenderly he used to pray for the dear young people gathered there, and that, in answer to God's call for his service, we might respond, "Lo we come, we come." It is not to be supposed that a girl, scarcely out of her teens, with very little spiritual experience, could fully understand the strength and force of his words of wisdom. A child memorizes the words of Holy Writ. and as the mind and soul develop they become the guide of his life and mould his character. So these words of power fell into the soil of my young heart, as seeds in the rich upturned furrows there to germinate.
"First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." God grant the fruit may have been unto everlasting life, both to myself and to others. These living seeds of truth being vitalized by the Holy Spirit could not die. I was fascinated then by their power and beauty. I understand them better now. I hope I remember clearly some of the texts from which he spoke, and many of his observations and illustrations.
A remarkable discourse was from these words:
"He made Himself of no reputation," showing that all who would follow Him fully must be willing to do the same, though a good name is the hardest thing to surrender.
In regard to his own experience, he once said that the Lord had always called on him to take the unpopular side.
He was emphatic in affirming that "All who will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." He said "The Bible does not read they may suffer persecution but they shall," and added if he ever came to a place where he was not persecuted, he should think there was something wrong with himself.
His life work having been that of an evangelist, efforts to bring people to decide for God characterized all his preaching.
At the close of the sermon he scarcely ever failed to draw the gospel net, by calling on the congregation to decide whether they would serve God or not.
I was told once that while appealing to his hearers, "Will you? Will you?" a young lady was so wrought up that she rose immediately in her place and said, "I will."
His experience as a lawyer previous to his conversion undoubtedly influenced his methods. In his writings President Finney makes the statement that the object of a lawyer in addressing a jury is not to display his own eloquence but to convince the jury and get a verdict. He states also that in the early days of his ministry this criticism was passed upon him: that he talked like a lawyer at the bar. In this matter her appeared to think that "the children of this world were wiser in their generation than the children of light."
His passion for souls, his knowledge of the spirit's power, aided by his great intellect, strong magnetic influence and deep sympathy with the needs of the human heart, gave him an almost compelling power. It would seem that he almost compelled men to be saved.
Speaking from the words, "Choose ye this day whom you will serve," his point was to prove that we all were choosing; that we could not waive the responsibility--could not take neutral ground.
These words clearly expressed the methods of his efforts: Now if ye will deal kindly and truly by my Master tell me, and if not, tell me. "He showed the awful sin and danger of deciding against Christ, as he proved all were doing who were not deciding for Him. Never can I forget the solemn and awful words in conclusion, "God may hold you to the choice you make today to all eternity."
In the matter of consecration he made thorough work. He never encouraged people to think they could follow Christ fully, and yet have their own will and their own way. Some one has said "A good many people would have holiness if they could also have everything else they wanted." He thought the reason why many failed to receive the full knowledge of God was because they were not willing to pay the price, illustrating the point in this way: I may greatly desire to take a journey, but if I am not willing to pay my fare, I shall never go." showing that good desires would not save us. [ click here to see in detail ] He taught that there was not compromise with God; that absolute and unconditional surrender was the only attitude for the soul seeking His pardon.
These are some of his observations on the subject as I remember them: "Christ sets Himself over against all you would naturally desire. Which will you choose?" In regard to the life work of the young people: "Will you wipe the black board clean and let God write on it what he will?" His strong point was his searching power. From his lips the truth of God was sharper than any two edged sword. There was no place for hiding. No chance for covering up. Those who were living in sin stood unmasked and without excuse. It is related that when Pres. Edwards preached from "Their foot shall slide in due time." People grasped the backs of the seats in front of them as if to save themselves from sliding into perdition.
Pres. Finney also had the power of showing souls their danger. A lady told me that the people would come from the gallery of the great first church, their faces white as sheets.
He was strong on the doctrine of total depravity and that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray, that every unconverted person was an enemy of God and a rebel against his government. To illustrate that an unawakened soul does not understand this he stated, "I have been told five-hundred times, perhaps, five-thousand times, "I have nothing against God, why should I have anything against God?" A young girl who had been for some time, seeking salvation but did not come into a clear light, was trying to comfort herself by the thought that she was getting better. He soon dispelled her false hopes by telling her, "No you are not getting better; you are getting worse. There is no salvation out of Christ."
The theme on which he most constantly dwelt was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. In season and out of season he was always urging believers to be filled with the Spirit, as the only preparation that would fit them for saving souls, that without it they were powerless, that with it nothing was too hard for God to do through them. This was the main track with him, he did not go off on side issues, believing if we had this all other things would follow.' "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." "When He is come he will guide you in to all truth." He taught also the necessity of frequent annointings and deep heart searching as a preparation, hence his prayer, "Lord give us an overhauling." He attributed his success in the soul saving largely to the fact that he had always been favored with helpers who knew how to pray. There were those in Oberlin who staid at home when he preached and "held on" for him as they termed it. Discussing on wrestling Jacob he once said. "If Jacob had had a prayer book what under heaven would he have done with it?" He declared he would rather have a person of no education to help him in his work if he knew how to prevail in prayer, than a highly educated person who did not. Prevailing prayer that takes hold on God not only asks but receives the witness that the answer will come. This was the watchword in the early days of Oberlin. In connection with the subject I once heard Mr. Finney relate a very interesting and amusing incident. A lady well ornamented with jewelry called on him and told him what wonderful answers she had received to her prayers. He was a keen discerner of men and evidently thought her rather transparent. He therefore investigated the matter with pointed interrogations.
"What answers have you had to prayers?" "Has their been a revival in your church of late?" "No." "Have your children been converted?" "No." I do not recollect the entire list of questions, but in conclusion he added, "Well, you seem to have a gold watch chain and a good many ornaments". "Did you get those in answer to prayer?"
Among his followers prayer was of such strong desire it was called "Agony of prayer." Even like the conflict in Gethsemane. A lady, whom I know, said she once told him it seemed to her she should die under the pressure, to whom he responded: "Die then, but prevail!"
He felt that people often knew not what they asked, and would not be willing to take the consequences, if God should fully answer, He would tell them, "What if He should answer your prayers! What if He should!" He realized the fact that in our experience, we are sometimes compelled to depend on God alone. Cut off from all other help he would say of himself, he was shut up to God but would add "I rather like it."
He did not hesitate to use satire in rebuking fashionable sins. In denouncing shams in the days of false hair, huge waterfalls and Grecian bends. He exclaimed, "If you see a woman you can't tell whether she has hair on her head or not, whether she is deformed or not deformed." He had no desire for ecclesiastical honors, always refusing the title of D. D., saying, "The gospel did not need any doctoring." He had a catholic spirit above sectarian barriers, and could see the excellence of other christians, even when he differed from them in opinion. He confessed that his own religious views had been modified by a deeper experience.
Referring to some of earlier theological work, he would say that he didn't agree with Finney.
I have already alluded to his great tenderness and sympathy. He would weep at the narration of human suffering. When in the public service some touching hymn was read relating to the suffering of Christ he would groan aloud. During the last years of his life he grew more feeble and preached less frequently. He spoke cheerfully but would say he was getting homesick, his house (his body) was so old and worn out.
In the summer of 1875, a little more than four years from the time I first saw him, I finished my course and returned to my home. A few days later the news flashed over the country, "President Finney is dead." After a few hours of suffering with pain in the region of the heart he passed away, as one writer has said, "Just as the sun was rising on a world he had done so much to bless." He was followed to his last resting place by a great concourse of people from different sections of the country. Unseen by mortal eye there was another host whom no man could number, shouting him welcome to the other side
His grave in Westwood cemetery, Oberlin, Ohio, is marked by a marble slab with a plain inscription, as a costly monument was forbidden by his will. [ Click here to see it ] He asserted he would have no pyramid over his head. His monument is one of redeemed souls which shall shine forever and ever.
"And I heard a voice from heave saying unto me, write: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.--Rev. 14:13.