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LABORS IN BOSTON AND PROVIDENCE.
BEFORE I return to my revival record, in order to give some idea of the relation of things, I must dwell a little more upon the progress of the anti-slavery, or abolition movement, not only at Oberlin, but elsewhere, as connected with my own labors. I have spoken of the state of public feeling, on this subject, all around us, and have mentioned that even the legislature of the state, at that time democratic, endeavored to find some pretext for repealing our charter, because of our anti-slavery sentiments and action. It was at first reported on every side of us, that we intended to encourage marriage between colored and white students, and even to compel them to intermarry; and that our object was to introduce a universal system of miscegenation. A little fact will illustrate the feeling that existed among many people in the neighborhood. I had occasion to ride out a few miles, soon after we came, and called upon a farmer on some errand. He looked very sullen and suspicious, when he found who I was, and from whence I came; and intimated to me that he did not want to have anything to do with the people of Oberlin; that our object was to introduce amalgamation of the races, and compel the white and colored students to intermarry; that we also intended to bring about the union of church and state, and that our ideas and projects were altogether revolutionary and abominable. He was quite in earnest about this. But the thing was so ridiculous, that I knew that if I attempted a serious answer, I should laugh him in the face.
We had reason, at an early day, for apprehension that a mob from a neighboring town would come and destroy our buildings. But we had not been here long, before circumstances occurred that created a reaction in the public mind. This place became one of the points on “the underground railroad,” as it has since been called, where escaped slaves, on their way to Canada, would take refuge for a day or two, until the way was open for them to proceed. Several cases occurred in which these fugitives were pursued by slave holders; and a hue and cry was raised, not only in this neighborhood, but in the neighboring towns, by their attempting to carry the slaves back into slavery. Slave catchers found no practical sympathy among the people; and scenes like these soon aroused public feeling in the towns around about, and began to produce a reaction. It set the farmers and people around us, to study more particularly into our aims and views, and our school soon became known and appreciated; and it has resulted in a state of universal confidence and good feeling, between Oberlin and the surrounding region.
In the meantime, the excitement on the subject of slavery was greatly agitating the Eastern cities, as well as the West and the South. Our friend, Mr. Willard Sears, of Boston, was braving a tempest of opposition there.
And in order to open the way for a free discussion on that subject in Boston, and for the establishment of religious worship, where a pulpit should be open to the free discussion of all great questions of reform, he had purchased the Marlborough hotel on Washington street, and had connected with it a large chapel for public worship, and for reform meetings, that could not find an entrance anywhere else. This he had done at great expense. In 1842, I was strongly urged to go and occupy the Marlborough chapel, and preach for a few months. I went and began my labors, and preached with all my might for two months. The Spirit of the Lord was immediately poured out, and there was a general agitation among the dry bones. I was visited at my room almost constantly, during every day of the week, by inquirers from all parts of the city, and many were obtaining hopes from day to day.
At this time Elder Knapp, the well known Baptist revivalist, was laboring in Providence, but under much opposition. He was invited by the Baptist brethren at Boston to come and labor there. He therefore left Providence and came to Boston. At the same time, Mr. Josiah Chapin and many others, were insisting very strongly upon my coming and holding meetings in Providence. I felt very much indebted to Mr. Chapin for what he had done for Oberlin, and for myself personally. It was a great trial for me to leave Boston, at this time. However, after seeing brother Knapp and informing him of the state of things, I left and went to Providence. This was the time of the great revival in Boston. It prevailed wonderfully, especially among the Baptists, and more or less throughout the city. The Baptist ministers took hold with brother Knapp, and many Congregational brethren were greatly blessed, and the work was very extensive.
There were many striking cases of conversion; among them was an elderly gentleman whose name I do not recollect. His father had been a Judge of the supreme court in Massachusetts, if I mistake not, many years before.
This old gentleman lived not far from the church where I was holding my meetings, in High street. After the work had gone on for some time, I observed a very venerable looking gentleman come into meeting, who paid very strict attention to the preaching. My friend, Mr. Chapin, immediately noticed him; and informed me who he was, and what his religious views were. He said he had never been in the habit of attending religious meetings; and he expressed a very great interest in the man, and in the fact that he had been drawn out to meeting. I observed that he continued, night after night, to come; and could easily perceive, as I thought, that his mind was very much agitated, and deeply interested on the question of religion.
One evening as I came to the close of my sermon, this venerable looking man rose up, and asked if he might address a few words to the people. I replied in the affirmative. He then spoke in substance as follows: “My friends and neighbors, you are probably surprised to see me attend these meetings. You have known my skeptical views, and that I have not been in the habit of attending religious meetings, for a long time. But hearing of the state of things in this congregation, I came in here; and I wish to have my friends and neighbors know that I believe that the preaching we are hearing, from night to night, is the Gospel. I have altered my mind,” said he. “I believe this is the truth, and the true way of salvation. I say this,” he added, “that you may understand my real motive for coming here; that it is not to criticize and find fault, but to attend to the great question of salvation, and to encourage others to attend to it.” He said this with much emotion, and sat down.
There was a very large Sabbath school room in the basement of the church.
The number of inquirers had become too large, and the congregation too much crowded, to call the inquirers forward, as I had done in some places; and I therefore requested them to go down, after the blessing was pronounced, to the lecture room below. The room was nearly as large as the whole audience room of the church, and would seat nearly as many, aside from the gallery. The work increased, and spread in every part of the city, until the number of inquirers became so great, together with the young converts, who were always ready to go below with them, as nearly or quite to fill that large room. From night to night, after preaching, that room would be filled with rejoicing young converts, and trembling, inquiring sinners. This state of things continued for two months. I was then, as I thought, completely tired out; having labored incessantly for four months, two in Boston, and two in Providence. Beside, the time of year had come, or nearly come, for opening of our spring term in Oberlin. I therefore took my leave of Providence, and started for home.
There was one circumstance which occurred in Boston, that I think it my duty to relate. A Unitarian woman had been converted in Boston, who was an acquaintance of the Rev. Dr. C—. Hearing of her conversion, Dr.
C—, as she informed me, sent for her to visit him, as he was in feeble health, and could not well call on her. She complied with his request, and he wished her to tell him the exercises of her mind, and her Christian experience, and the circumstances of her conversion. She did so, and the doctor manifested a great interest in her change of mind; and inquired of her if she had anything that I had written and published, that he could read. She told him that she had a little work of mine, which had been published, on the subject of sanctification. He borrowed it, and told her that he would read it; and if she would call again in a week, he should be happy to have farther conversation with her. At the close of the week, she returned for her book, and the doctor said, “I am very much interested in this book, and in the views that are here set forth.” “I understand” says he, “that the orthodox object to this view of sanctification, as it is presented by Mr. Finney; but I cannot see, if Christ is divine and truly God, why this view should be objected to; nor can I see any inconsistency, in holding this as a part of the orthodox faith. Yet I should like to see Mr. Finney.
Cannot you persuade him to call on me? for I cannot go and see him.” She called at my lodgings; but I had left Boston for Providence. After an absence of two months, I was again in Boston, and this lady called immediately to see me, and gave me the information which I have related.
But he had then gone into the country, on account of his health. I greatly regretted not having an opportunity to see him. But he died shortly after, and of his subsequent religious history I know nothing. Nor can I vouch for the truth of what this lady said. She was manifestly honest in her communication; and I had no doubt that every word she told me was true.
But she was a stranger to me, and I cannot recollect her name at this distance of time. The next time I met Dr. Beecher, Dr. C—’s name was mentioned, and I related to him this fact. The tears started in his eyes, in a moment, and he said with much emotion, “I guess he has gone to heaven!”