Another Winter in Boston

THE WINTER OF 1843–1844, which Finney spent preaching in Boston at Marlborough Chapel, was a decisive one for him. His experience of the second blessing, or baptism of the Holy Ghost, occurred a this time, and is related here in this excerpt from his Memoirs (also called his Autobiography). In a way, Finney’s description of his experience seems unremarkable, if we are looking for anything exotic—he mentions no miraculous or mystical experience. Here is the real man, in intimate words that recall similar personal reflections by Edwards and others. Here is the inner man, who all that follow Christ—whether they agree with Finney or not—can relate to.

In the fall of 1843, I was called again to Boston...

The mass of the people in Boston are more unsettled in their religious convictions than in any other place that I have ever labored in, notwithstanding their intelligence; for they are surely a very intelligent people, on all questions but that of religion. It is extremely difficult to make religious truths lodge in their minds, because the influence of Unitarian teaching has been, to lead them to call in question all the principle doctrines of the Bible.... They deny almost everything, and affirm almost nothing.

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 study and bedroom were at one corner of the chapel building. 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 the power of God....

I gave myself to a great deal of prayer. After my evening services, I would retire as early as I could; but rose 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 for breakfast, at eight o’clock. My days were spent, so long as I could get time, in searching the Scriptures. I read nothing else, all that winter, but my Bible; and a great deal of it seemed new to me . . . the whole Scriptures seemed to me all ablaze with light ....

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 the reading of the Bible, and that my heart is not really subdued by them? . . . The thought that I might be deceiving myself, 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 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, 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 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....

But as I said, I [later] was enabled, after struggling with...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, all to be disposed of according to his wisdom.

I then had a deeper view of what was implied in consecration to God, than ever 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 . . . . I felt a kind of holy boldness, in telling him to do with me just as seemed good to him; that he could not do anything that was not perfectly wise and good; and therefore, I had the best 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.

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. ” . . . 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 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 ....

At this time it seemed as if my soul were wedded to Christ, in a sense in which I had never had any thought or conception before . . . . Indeed the Lord lifted me up so much above anything 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 had had no conception of the length and breadth, and height and depth, and efficiency of his grace.

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 soul. Although I had 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, that 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 ....

As the great excitement of that season subsided, and 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, that I had often experienced . . . . 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, only occasionally before . . . . 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 period 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, 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 room alone, and some Christian friends were sitting up in the parlor, and watching out the night. [This is a reference to the common practice of family members or friends staying, “sitting up, ” with the body of a dead loved one, around the clock, “watching out the night, ” in the parlor, where the coffin would be set up for some days before burial.] I had been asleep for a little while, and as I awoke, 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 on 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 your 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? ... ”

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. From that moment, sorrow, on account of my loss, was gone forever. I no longer thought of my wife 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 that 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 communed personally with her. But it seems 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 that was heaven, and I experienced it in my own soul. I have never, to this day, lost the blessing 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 blessedness.

from: Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney Written by Himself. A.S. Barnes & Co., New York, 1876.

By Charles G. Finney

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #20 in 1988]

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