The Revival Experience
One can gain some sense of Finney's power as a preacher from the published reminiscences of converts and colleagues collected for a memorial service at Oberlin College, which he established. Finney's own account, his Memoirs, devotes individual chapters to accounts of his activities in various town and cities, including the great revival in Rochester.
MEMOIRS OF REVIVALS OF RELIGION By Charles G. Finney Published as AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1876). Of particular interest are Chapter Two, Conversion to Christ, and Finney's account of the 1830 revival in Rochester.
REMINISCENCES of Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY. Speeches and Sketches AT THE GATHERING OF HIS FRIENDS AND PUPILS, IN OBERLIN, JULY 28TH, 1876 — Speeches at a memorial service.
Finney was the best known and most influential revivalist, but thousands more labored in the vineyard. One way to gain a sense of the impact of their efforts is to look at some of the testimonies of the converted.
THE T E S T I M O N Y OF A HUNDRED WITNESSES: OR, THE INSTRUMENTALITIES BY WHICH SINNERS ARE BROUGHT TO EMBRACE THE RELIGION OF JESUS CHRIST. FROM CHRISTIANS OF DIFFERENT DENOMINATIONS COMPILED BY ELDER J. F. WEISHAMPEL, SEN. (PUBLISHED BY JOHN F. WEISHAMPEL, JR. RICHMOND, VA., T. J. STARKE, MAIN ST. HARRISBURG, PA., JOHN WINEBRENNER. NEW YORK, SHELDON, BLAKEMAN & CO. WOOSTER, OHIO, J. P. WINEBRENNER, 1858.) (frontispiece at right)
"I do believe, without a doubt/The Christian has a right to shout." — The Chorus [a Methodist song book], compiled by A. S. Jenks and D. Gilkey (Philadelphia, 1860), Nos. 55, 241, quoted in "Shouting Methodist" By Winthrop S. Hudson, originally published in Encounter (Winter 1968). This essay recounts the Kentucky revival of the early 19th Century and contains numerous excerpts from contemporary hymns. It is a splendid introduction to the spirituality of the early revivals.
Another approach is to look at accounts of the Awakening's critics. One of the most acerbic was Frances Trolloppe. Of a camp meeting she wrote:
Many of these wretched creatures [approaching the anxious bench] were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered "Sister! dear sister!" I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls; I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims, and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red.
Mrs. Trolloppe was not alone in suspecting the motives of the clergy or in worrying about the appeal of religion for women. Richard Gooch, an Englishman who claimed to have spent a year in the United States, wrote in America and the Americans (1833):
The same authority [McDowall's Journal] stated in the previous month of April, that "a religious sect had sprung up in the county of Surry, one of whose tenets is to salute each other at a holy meeting with a holy kiss. One of the female devotees, a young lady of a thousand charms, happened to encounter a young gentleman of whom she was enamoured, and gave him a more cordial & loving salute than was quite becoming. The next day she received a message from the high priest of the sect, saying she had been excommunicated for 'kissing with an appetite.'" I could relate anecdotes of their camp-meetings that would make the ears of decency tingle and the cheek of modesty burn with shame enacted, not only under the eye of their spiritual teachers, as they call their vagabond pastors, but in which these same pastors were the principal actors. I shall not, however, dwell upon them. Those who would be better versed in the history of an American camp-meeting, I must refer to the writings of Mrs. Trollope. . . . It is a fact that the females of all classes of fanatics in America are under a complete state of subjection to their spiritual pastors, and that they alone ought to be looked upon as their hearers & their supporters. One would suppose from appearances that the American women were all fanatics, & the men all atheists-Indeed, I believe it to be near the truth. I have been in many of their most crowded congregations, and amongst several thousands never saw above a hundred men present at the same time; in fact the disproportion of the sexes never fails to create surprise in strangers. It is to the women all their appeals are addressed, it is upon them all the baser purposes of fanatical preachers are made to operate.