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Finney's Conversion

From the Memoirs of Charles G. Finney

North of the village and over a hill lay a wooded area in which I walked almost daily when it was pleasant weather. It was now October and the time was past for my frequent walks there. Nevertheless, instead of going to the office I turned and bent my course toward the woods, feeling that I must be alone and away from all human eyes and ears so that I could pour out my prayer to God.

But still my pride wanted to show itself. As I went over the hill it occurred to me that someone might see me and suppose that I was going away to pray. Yet probably there was not a person on earth that would have suspected such a thing had he seen me going. But so great was my pride, and so much was I possessed with the fear of man, that I remember skulking along under the fence until I got so far out of sight that no one from the village could see me. I then penetrated into the woods, about a quarter of a mile, went over on the other side of the hill and found a place where some large trees had fallen across each other, leaving an open place between. There I saw I could make a kind of closet. I crept into this place and knelt down for prayer. As I had turned to go up into the woods I remembered having said, "I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there." I remembered repeating this as I went up, "I will give my heart to God before I ever come down again.''

But when I attempted to pray I found that my heart would not pray. I had supposed that if I could only be where I could speak aloud without being overheard, I could pray freely. But lo! When I came to try, I was dumb; that is, I had nothing to say to God; or at least I could say but a few words, and those without heart. In attempting to pray I would hear a rustling in the leaves and would stop and look up to see if somebody were not coming. This I did several times.

Finally I found myself fast coming to despair. I said to myself, "I cannot pray. My heart is dead to God, and will not pray." I then reproached myself for having promised to give my heart to God before I left the woods. When I came to try, I found I could not give my heart to God. My inward soul hung back, and there was no going out of my heart to God. I began to feel deeply that it was too late, that I was given up of God and was past hope.

The thought was pressing me of the rashness of my promise that I would give my heart to God that day or die in the attempt. It seemed to me as if that was binding upon my soul, and yet I was going to break my vow. A great sinking and discouragement came over me, and I felt almost too weak to stand upon my knees.

Just at this moment I again thought I heard someone approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether it were so. But right there the revelation of my pride was distinctly shown to me as the great difficulty that stood in the way. An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed to have a human being see me on my knees before God took such powerful possession of me that I cried at the top of my voice and exclaimed that I would not leave that place if all the men on earth and all the devils in hell surrounded me. "What!" I said, "such a degraded sinner as I am, on my knees confessing my sins to the great and holy God, ashamed to have any human being find me on my knees endeavoring to make my peace with my offended God!" The sin appeared awful, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord.

Just at that point this passage of scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light: "Then shall you go and pray unto me, and I will hearken to you. Then shall you seek me and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart."

I instantly seized hold of this with my heart. I had intellectually believed the Bible before, but never had the truth been in my mind that faith was a voluntary trust instead of an intellectual state. I was as conscious of trusting at that moment in God's truthfulness as I was of my own existence. Somehow I knew that was a passage of scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew that it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me.

I cried to him. "Lord, I take Thee at Thy word. Now Thou knowest that I do search for Thee with all my heart. and that I have come here to pray to Thee: and Thou hast promised to hear me."

That seemed to settle the question that I could then, that day, perform my vow. The Spirit seemed to lay stress upon that idea in the text, "When you search for me with all your heart." The question of when, that is of the present time, seemed to fall heavily into my heart. I told the Lord that I would take him at his word, that he could not lie, and that therefore I was sure that he heard my prayer and that he would be found of me.

He then gave me many other promises, both from the Old and the New Testament, especially some most precious promises respecting our Lord, Jesus Christ. I never can, in words, make any human being understand how preciious and true those promises appeared to me. I took them one after the other as infallible truth, the assertions of God who could not lie. They did not seem so much to fall into my intellect as into my heart, to be put within the grasp of the voluntary powers of my mind, and I seized hold of them with the grasp of a drowning man.

I continued thus to pray and to receive and appropriate promises for a long time. I know not how long. I prayed till my mind became so full that before I was aware of it, I was on my feet and tripping up the ascent toward the road. The question of my being converted had not so much as arisen to my thought, but as I went up, brushing through the leaves and bushes, I remembered saying with great emphasis, "If I am ever converted, I will preach the Gospel."

I soon reached the road that led to the village, and began to reflect upon what had passed, I found that my mind had become most wonderfully quiet and peaceful. I said to myself, "What is this? I must have grieved the Holy Spirit entirely away. I have lost all my conviction. I have not a particle of concern about my soul. It must be that the Spirit has left me." "Why!" thought I, "I never was so far from being concerned about my own salvation in my life."

Then I remembered what I had said to God while I was on my knees, that I would take him at his word. Indeed, I remembered a good many things that I had said, and concluded that it was no wonder that the Spirit had left me, that for such a sinner as I to take hold of God's word in that way was presumption, if not blasphemy. I concluded that in my excitement I had grieved the Holy Spirit and perhaps committed the unpardonable sin.

I walked quietly toward the village, and so perfectly quiet was my mind that it seemed as if all nature listened. It was on the 10th of October and a very pleasant day, I had gone into the woods immediately after an early breakfast, and when I returned to the village I found it was lunch time. Yet I had been wholly unconscious of the time that had passed. It appeared to me that I had been gone from the village but a short time.

But how was I to account for the quiet of my mind? I tried to recall my convictions, to get back again the load of sin under which I had been laboring. But all sense of sin, all consciousness of present sin or guilt, had departed from me. I said to myself, "What is this, that I cannot arouse any sense of guilt in my soul, as great a sinner as I am?" I tried in vain to make myself anxious about my present state. I was so quiet and peaceful that I tried to feel concerned about that, lest it should be a result of my having grieved the Spirit away. But take any view of it I would, I could not be anxious at all about my soul and about my spiritual state. The repose of my mind was unspeakably great. I cannot describe it in words. The thought of God was sweet to my mind, and the most profound spiritual tranquillity had taken full possession of me. This was a great mystery, but it did not distress or perplex me

I went to my lunch but found I had no appetite. I then went to the office and found that Squire W-had gone to lunch. I took down my bass viol and, as I was accustomed to do, began to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But as soon as I began to sing those sacred words I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid and my feelings were in such a state that I could not hear my own voice in singing without causing my feelings to overflow. I wondered at this and tried to stop my tears, but could not. After trying in vain to stop my tears, I put up my instrument and stopped singing.

After lunch we were engaged in moving our books and furniture to another office. We were very busy and had but little conversation all afternoon. My mind, however, remained in that profoundly tranquil state. There was a great sweetness and tenderness in my thoughts and feelings. Everything appeared to be going right, and nothing seemed to ruffle or disturb me in the least.

Just before evening the thought possessed my mind that as soon as I was alone in the new office, I would try to pray again. I was not going to abandon the subject of religion and give it up at any rate. Therefore, although I no longer had any concern about my soul, still I would continue to pray.

By evening we had the books and furniture adjusted, and I made a good fire in an open fireplace, hoping to spend the evening alone. Just at dark Squire W----. seeing that everything was adjusted, told me good night and went to his home. I had accompanied him to the door, and as I closed the door and turned around my heart seemed to be liquid within me. All my feelings seemed to rise and flow out and the thought of my heart was, "I want to pour my whole soul out to God." The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the room back of the front office to pray.

There was no fire and no light in this back room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. It seemed to me a reality that he stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child and made such confessions as I could with my choked words. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears, and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched him.

I must have continued in this state for a good while, but my mind was too much absorbed with the interview to remember anything that I said. As soon as my mind became calm enough I returned to the front office and found that the fire I had made of large wood was nearly burned out. But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any memory of ever hearing the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can remember distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wines.

No words can express the wonderful love that was spread abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love. I literally bellowed out the unspeakable overflow of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I remember crying out. "I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me." I said, "Lord, I cannot bear any more," yet I had no fear of death.

How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir--for I was the leader of the choir--came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, "Mr. Finney, what's wrong with you?" I could not answer for some time. He then said, "Are you in pain?"

I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, "No, but so happy that I cannot live.''

He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man and in my presence had been very watchful. I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything he fell into a most spasmodic laughter. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart.