A Mighty Work of God
Taken from the book “The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney
Condensed and edited by Helen Wessel
Bethany House Publishers
Throughout the Bible God had recorded many miracles through the lives of godly men and women. In the United States in the 19th century, revival came to our country. God had raised special men to bring his message and many came to Christ. One of these men was Charles Finney. I wanted to share this special story with you, demonstrating the power of God, in one area in New York state. This is in Finney’s own words so the language may be a bit of a challenge.
On the third Sunday that I preached there an aged man came to me as I was entering the pulpit and asked if I would go and preach in a schoolhouse in his neighborhood, about three miles distant, saying that they had never had any services there, He wished me to come as soon as I could. I appointed the next day, Monday, at five o’clock in the afternoon. It was a warm day. I left my horse at the village and thought I would walk down so that I should have no trouble along the way in calling on the people in the neighborhood of the schoolhouse. However, before I reached the place having labored so hard on Sunday, I found myself very much exhausted and sat down by the way and felt as if I could scarcely proceed. I blamed myself for not having taken my horse.
But at the appointed hour I found the schoolhouse full, and I could only get a standing place near the open door. I read a hymn, but I cannot call it singing, for they seemed never to have had any church music in that place. However, the people pretended to sing. It sounded like each one was bawling in his own way. My ears had been cultivated by teaching church music, and their horrible discord distressed me so much that, at first, I thought I must go out. I finally put both hands over my ears and held them with my full strength. But this did not shut out the discords. I stood it, however, until they were through and then I cast myself down on my knees, almost in a state of desperation and began to pray. The Lord opened the windows of heaven, the spirit of prayer was poured out, and I let my whole heart out in prayer.
I had taken no thought with regard to a text upon which to preach, but waited to see the congregation. As soon as I was through praying, I arose from my knees and said; “Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city.” I told them I did not remember exactly where that text was, but I told them very nearly where they would find it and then went on to explain it.
I told them about a man named Abraham and his nephew Lot; how they separated from each other on account of differences between their herdsmen; and that Abraham took the hill country, and Lot settled in the vale of Sodom. I then told them how exceedingly wicked Sodom became, and what abominable practices they fell into. I told them that the Lord decided to destroy Sodom, and visited Abraham to inform him what he was about to do. Abraham prayed to the Lord to spare Sodom if he found a certain number of righteous people there, and the Lord promised to do so for their sakes. But it was found that there was only one righteous person there and that was Lot, Abraham’s nephew.
While I was relating these facts I observed the people looking as if they were angry. Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves, and they looked at each other and at me as if they were ready to fall upon me and chastise me on the spot. I saw their strange and unaccountable looks, and could not understand what I was saying that had offended them. However, it seemed to me that their anger rose higher and higher as I continued the narrative. As soon as I had finished the story I said that I understood they had never had a religious meeting in that place; therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were ungodly people. I pressed that home to them with more and more energy, with my heart full almost to bursting.
I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application more than a quarter of an hour when all at once an awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them. The congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction and cry for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell. Indeed, nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate in less than two minutes from the first shock that fell upon them. Everyone who was able to speak at all prayed for himself.
Of course I was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention. I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach, sitting about in the middle of the house and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear above the noise of the sobbing, and pointed to him said, “Can’t you pray?
He instantly fell upon his knees, and with a stentorian voice poured himself out to God, but he did not at all get the attention of the people.
I then spoke as loudly as I could, and tried to make them listen to me. I said to them, “You are not in hell yet. Now let me direct you to Christ.”
For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them, but scarcely any of them paid any attention. My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting and giving glory to God.
As soon as I could sufficiently control my feelings I turned to a young man who was close to me, and was engaged in praying for himself, laid my hand on his shoulder, thus getting his attention and preached Jesus in his ear. As soon as I got his attention to the cross of Christ, he believed, was calm and quiet for a minute or two, and then broke out in praying for the others. I then turned to another, and took the same course with him, with the same result, and then another and another.
In this way I kept on until I found the time had arrived when I must leave them and go to fulfill an appointment in the village. I told them this, and asked the old man who had invited me there to remain and take charge of the meeting while I went to my appointment. He did so. But there was too much interest, and there were too many wounded souls, to dismiss the meeting; and so it was held all night. In the morning there were still those there that could not get away, and they carried on in a private house in the neighborhood, to make room for the school. In the afternoon they sent for me to come down there, as they could not yet break up the meeting.
When I went down the second time, I was told why the congregation manifested such anger during the introduction of my sermon the day before. I learned that the place was called Sodom, but I hadn’t known it; and that there was but one pious man in the place and his name was Lot! This was the old man who had invited me there. The people supposed that I had chosen my subject and preached to them in that manner because they were so wicked as to be called Sodom. This was a striking coincidence, but so far as I was concerned it was altogether accidental.
Note: You can find Sodom, New York and the original stone schoolhouse still stands.
Randy Benedetto 2017