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Overwhelming Conviction

By Robert Wurtz II

      Accounts of Revival at Rome, New York 1825
      Compiled By Robert Wurtz II

      The Village of Rome

      Rome is situated in Oneida County, New York and was a village built around Fort Stanwix, which was a military guard post in the 1700's. There is a good amount of history in this area of New York. Today Rome is a city of around 35,000 people.

      In the latter part of 1825 the Rev. Moses Gillett, pastor of the Congregational Church in Rome and an associate of his, heard what the Lord was doing in Western and came to see what was going on. They were both greatly impressed with the work of God. Charles Finney recalls that he could see that the Spirit of God was stirring them up to the deepest foundations of their minds. After a few days, Mr. Gillett and his associate Miss H, came up again to see him. Miss H was a very devout and earnest Christian girl. On their second coming up, Mr. Gillett said to him, "Brother Finney, it seems to me that I have a new Bible. I never before understood the promises as I do now; I never got hold of them before; I cannot rest," he said; "my mind is full of the subject, and the promises are new to me." This is but an example of the profound effect upon the lives of those who attended the meetings with Charles Finney.

      Trading Places

      When the revival was in its full strength at Western, Mr. Gillett persuaded Finney to exchange a Sunday with him. Mr. Gillett would preach at Western and Finney would preach at Rome. Finney consented reluctantly. On the Saturday before the day of the exchange, on his way to Rome, he greatly regretted that he had consented to the exchange. He was afraid that Mr. Gillett would preach some of his old sermons, which he knew very well could not be adapted to the Revival that was going on. The people were praying so he felt a bit better knowing that it would not stifle the work- only maybe hinder it. He went to Rome and preached three times on Sunday.

      As Charles Finney preached the Word took great effect. He could see during the day that many heads were down, and that a great number of the people were bowed down with deep conviction for sin.   In the morning service he preached from the text: "The carnal mind is enmity against God;" and followed it up with something along those lines in the afternoon and evening services.

      When Mr. Gillett returned from western the following day, he did not realize that God was beginning to work with such power. He wanted to call for ‘inquirers', if there were any in the congregation, and wanted Finney to be present at the meeting. Inquirers are people who are anxious about their spiritual condition and may perhaps desire the plan of salvation. We must remember that this was at a time when altar calls were not offered after each sermon as we see them today. Charles Finney implemented altar calls as a further expression of what was formerly called ‘sitting in the anxious seat.' Before when people were concerned about their souls they were taken to a back room and counseled and prayed for. The altar call is one method that many scholars attribute directly to Charles Finney.

      Methods of Preaching Revival

      Finney personally recounts his methods of preaching as follows, 'I have said before, that the means that I had all along used, thus far, in promoting revivals, were much prayer, secret and social, public preaching, personal conversation, and visitation from house to house; and when inquirers became multiplied, I appointed meetings for them, and invited those that were inquiring to meet for instruction, suited to their necessities. These were the means and the only means, that I had thus far used, in attempting to secure the conversion of souls.'

      Anxious Inquirers

      A meeting for anxious inquirers was held and Mr. Gillett asked Charles Finney to be present. When he arrived back from a visit to Western, he found the large sitting room crowed to its utmost capacity. Finney recounts, 'Mr. Gillett looked around with surprise, and manifest disturbance; for he found that the meeting was composed of many of the most intelligent and influential members of his congregation; and especially was largely composed of the prominent young men in the town. We spent a little while in attempting to converse with them; and I soon saw that the feeling was so deep, that there was danger of an outburst of feeling, that would be almost uncontrollable. I therefore said to Mr. Gillett, "It will not do to continue the meeting in this shape. I will make some remarks, such as they need, and then dismiss them."'

      Nothing had been said or done to create any excitement in this meeting. The conviction that the people felt was spontaneous. The Spirit of God was working with such power, that saying anything would make, 'the stoutest men writhe on their seats, as if a sword had been thrust into their hearts.' It is near impossible for a person who had never witnessed such a scene, to realize what force the truth sometimes exerts, under the power of the Holy Ghost. Finney continues, 'It was indeed a sword, and a two-edged sword. The pain that it produced when searchingly presented in a few words of conversation, would create a distress that seemed unendurable.'

      Obviously Mr. Gillett had never saw such conviction and became very disturbed. Finney says that he turned pale; and called out to him, "What shall we do? What shall we do?" Finney said, 'I put my hand on his shoulder, and in a whisper said, "Keep quiet, keep quiet, Brother Gillett." Finney then addressed the people in as gentle- but plain manner- calling their attention to their only remedy, and assuring them that it was a present and all-sufficient one. Finney recounts, 'I pointed them to Christ, as the Savior of the world; and kept on in this strain as long as they could well endure it, which, indeed, was but a few moments. Mr. Gillett became so agitated that I stepped up to him, and taking him by the arm I said, "Let us pray." We knelt down in the middle of the room where we had been standing. I led in prayer, in a low, unimpassioned voice; interceded with the Savior to interpose His blood, then and there, and to lead all these sinners to accept the salvation, which He offered, and to believe to the saving of their souls. The distress of the people deepened every moment; and as I could hear their sobs, and sighs, I closed my prayer and rose suddenly from my knees. They all arose, and I said, "Now please go home without speaking a word to each other. Try to keep silent, and do not break out into any boisterous manifestation of feeling; but go without saying a word, to your rooms."

      The conviction became so great upon the people that Finney had to use great wisdom and care just to keep the situation decent and in order. The people were on the brink of breaking down or going all into an outburst, but Finney dismissed them to their rooms. This is another example where modern ministers would feel a need to intervene into God's working; but Finney did not. Finney recounts what happened next,   'At this moment a young man by the name of W, a clerk in Mr. H's store, being one of the first young men in the place, so nearly fainted, that he fell upon some young men that stood near him; and they all of them partially swooned away, and fell together. This had well-nigh produced a loud shrieking; but I hushed them down, and said to the young men, "Please set that door wide open, and go out, and let all retire in silence." They did as I requested. They did not shriek; but they went out sobbing and sighing, and their sobs and sighs could be heard till they got out into the street. This Mr. W, to whom I have alluded (the store clerk), kept silence till he entered the door where he lived; but he could contain himself any longer. He shut the door, fell upon the floor, and burst out into a loud wailing, in view of his awful condition: This brought the family around him, and scattered conviction among the whole of them.'

      God used the broken condition of this man to preach a sermon to his own family! In light of what they heard Finney preach and saw in this man, God poured conviction upon them also. This happened in several homes with different people who fell under conviction. What a powerful means to bring salvation to an entire house! When the family watched the reaction of this man to what God was doing and themselves rightly responded- they became partakers of God's grace. Finney wrote that the people who were converted in this way would end up with such JOY that they were unable to contain themselves!

      Waking Up Under Conviction!

      Finney recalls the events of the following day. He writes, 'The next morning, as soon as it was fairly day, people began to call at Mr. Gillett's, to have us go and visit members of their families, whom they represented as being under the greatest conviction. We took a hasty breakfast, and started out. As soon as we were in the streets, the people ran out from many houses, and begged us to go into their houses. As we could only visit but one place at a time, when we went into a house, the neighbors would rush in and fill the largest room. We would stay and give them instruction for a short time, and then go to another house, and the people would follow us. We found a most extraordinary state of things. Convictions were so deep and universal, that we would sometimes go into a house, and find some in a kneeling posture, and some prostrate on the floor. We visited, and conversed, and prayed in this manner, from house to house, till noon. I then said to Mr. Gillett, "This will never do; we must have a meeting of inquiry. We cannot go from house to house, and we are not meeting the wants of the people at all." He agreed with me; but the question arose, where shall we have the meeting?'

      A man by the name of Mr. F. had a hotel that could be used if they could gain permission. Without difficulty they obtained consent, and then went immediately to the public schools with a notice that at one o'clock there was going to be a meeting of inquiry at the hotel. They went home, ate dinner, and started back for the meeting. Finney describes the scene as the neared the hotel, 'We saw people hurrying, and some of them actually running to the meeting. They were coming from every direction. By the time we were there, the room, though a large one, was crammed to its utmost capacity. Men, women, and children crowded the apartment. This meeting was very much like the one we had had the night before. The feeling was overwhelming. Some men of the strongest nerves were so cut down by the remarks, which were made, that they were unable to help themselves, and had to be taken home by their friends. This meeting lasted till nearly night. It resulted in a great number of hopeful conversions, and was the means of greatly extending the work on every side.'

      Conviction in the Courthouse!

      When Charles Finney preached that evening, Mr. Gillett appointed a meeting for inquiry, for the next morning, in the courthouse. A meeting was held in the morning and again later in the evening. Finney recounts the evening service, 'The meeting was hardly begun before the conviction deepened so much that, to prevent an undesirable outburst of overwhelming feeling, I proposed to Mr. Gillett that we should dismiss the meeting, and request the people to go in silence, and Christians to spend the evening in secret prayer, or in family prayer, as might seem most desirable. Sinners we exhorted not to sleep, until they gave their hearts to God. After this the work became so general that I preached every night, I think, for twenty nights in succession, and twice on Sunday. Our prayer meetings during this time were held in the church, in the daytime. The prayer meeting was held one part of the day, and a meeting for inquiry the other part. Every day, if I remember aright, after the work had thus commenced, we held a prayer meeting and a meeting for inquiry, with preaching in the evening. There was a solemnity throughout the whole place, and an awe that made everybody feel that God was there.'

      Beginnings of the Altar Call

      Charles Finney believed that when a person was truly converted they should make a public profession of their faith. This was a departure from previous methods that simply took a ‘wait and see' approach. Finney believed that a person could be brought to salvation at once after they had gone through the process of conversion. While under great conviction the people were often invited to sit in the ‘anxious seat' in the front of the meeting place. He would occasionally ask the people to stand up if they intended to serve Christ. Other times he called them forward once there was some certainty that they were saved. A term you frequently see used is, ‘hopefully converted.' Not knowing the hearts of men, it is impossible to fully know who is saved; but upon seeing fruits of repentance and verifiable and compelling evidence- Finney would consider them ‘hopefully converted.'

      He Fell as Though He Had Been Shot!

      As this revival continued ministers came in from neighboring towns, and expressed great astonishment at what they saw and heard. Conversions multiplied so rapidly, that there was no way of learning who was converted. Therefore every evening, at the close of his sermon, Finney requested all who had been converted that day, to come forward in front of the pulpit, that he might have a little conversation with them. They were every night surprised by the number and the class of persons that came forward.

      Finney recounts another meeting, 'At one of our morning prayer meetings, the lower part of the church was full. I arose and was making some remarks to the people, when an unconverted man, a merchant, came into the meeting. He came along till he found a seat in front of me, and near where I stood speaking. He had sat but a few moments, when he fell from his seat as if he had been shot. He writhed and groaned in a terrible manner. I stepped to the pew door, and saw that it was altogether an agony of mind. A skeptical physician sat near him. He stepped out of his slip, and came and examined this man who was thus distressed. He felt his pulse, and examined the case for a few moments. He said nothing, but turned away, and leaned his head against a post that supported the gallery, and manifested great agitation. He said afterward that he saw at once that it was distress of mind, and it took his skepticism entirely away. He was soon after hopefully converted. We engaged in prayer for the man who fell in the pew; and before he left the house, I believe, his anguish passed away, and he rejoiced in Christ.

      Out of The Mouth of Babes God Brought Conviction of Sin

      Finney tells the story of another physician, a very amiable man but a skeptic, that had a little daughter and a praying wife. Little H, a girl perhaps eight or nine years old, was strongly convicted of sin, and her mother was greatly interested in her state of mind. But her father was, at first, quite indignant. He said to his wife, "The subject of religion is too high for me. I never could understand it. And do you tell me that that little child understands it so as to be intelligently convicted of sin? I do not believe it. I know better. I cannot endure it. It is fanaticism; it is madness." Nevertheless the mother of the child held fast in prayer. The doctor made these remarks with a good deal of spirit. Immediately he took his horse, and went several miles to see a patient. On his way, as he afterward remarked, the issue took possession of his mind in such a manner, that it was all opened to his understanding; and the whole plan of salvation by Christ was so clear to him that he saw that a child could understand it. He wondered that it had ever seemed so mysterious to him. He regretted exceedingly that he had said what he had to his wife about little H, and felt in haste to get home that he might take it back. He soon came home a new man; and told his wife what had passed in his mind; encouraged dear little H to come to Christ; and both father and daughter have since been earnest Christians, and have lived long and done much good.

      Judgment At The Doors During Real Revival

      When the Spirit of God is near it is dangerous to get out of line. The priests found this out in the Old Testament and Ananias and Sapphira found it out in the New Testament. Perhaps one of the great reasons revival terries is that people do not reverence the presence of God. I taught once that if everyone would come into the house of God with a holy reverential awe- God would begin to work as never before. Have any ever stopped to consider that maybe God is showing mercy by withdrawing from our midst? When God comes near HE will judge sin. He will call people out of a whirlwind as it were and demand some answers. He will shout sins from the housetops or smite people dead for their secret sin where they stand. When pride arises in men's hearts, as it did Herod- the Angel of the Lord shall stand near and smite him- for simply not giving God the Glory. Job learned a fearful lesson what it is like to have a confrontation with God. 'STAND ON YOUR FEET LIKE A MAN and I WILL QUESTION YOU! (Job 38:3) We forget that this is the same Christ who told the Church at Thyatira He would smite their children with death and cast the Fornicators into a bed of GREAT tribulation if they would not repent. God is a terrible (awesome) God. And until we realize this their will either be no revival or revival will bring with it all manor of judgments the likes of which we have none beheld.   

      Charles Finney offers us a glimpse once again, as he does many times, into what happens when people get out of line during a genuine revival. Here we read, 'But in this revival, as in others that I have known, God did some terrible things in righteousness. On one Sunday while I was there, as we came out of the pulpit, and were about to leave the church, a man came in haste to Mr. Gillett and myself, and requested us to go to a certain place, saying that a man had fallen down dead there. I was engaged in conversing with somebody, and Mr. Gillett went alone. When I was through with the conversation, I went to Mr. Gillett's house, and he soon returned and related this fact. Three men who had been opposing the work, had met that Sunday-day, and spent the day in drinking and ridiculing the work. They went on in this way until one of them suddenly fell dead. When Mr. Gillett arrived at the house, and the circumstances were related to him, he said, "There--there is no doubt but that man has been stricken down by God, and has been sent to hell." His companions were speechless. They could say nothing; for it was evident to them that their conduct had brought upon him this awful stroke of divine indignation.'

      Great Fear Came Upon the People and Many Were Saved

       As the revival proceeded, it gathered in nearly the whole population. Nearly every one of the lawyers, merchants, and physicians, and almost all the principal men, and indeed, nearly all the adult population of the village, were brought in, especially those who belonged to Mr. Gillett's congregation. He said to me before I left, "So far as my congregation is concerned, the millennium is come already. My people are all converted. Of all my past labors I have not a sermon that is suited at all to my congregation, for they are all Christians." Mr. Gillett afterward reported that, during the twenty days that I spent at Rome, there were five hundred conversions in that town.'

      The Revival Spreads

      During the progress of this revival, a good deal of excitement sprung up in Utica, and some ridiculed the revival at Rome. Mr. E, who lived at Rome, was a very prominent citizen, and was regarded as standing at the head of society there, in point of wealth and intelligence. But he was skeptical; or, perhaps I should say, he held Unitarian views. He was a very moral and respectable man, and held his peculiar views unobtrusively, saying very little to anybody about them. Finney recounts, 'The first Sunday I preached there, Mr. H was present; and he was so astonished, as he afterwards told me, at my preaching, that he made up his mind that he would not go again. He went home and said to his family: "That man is mad, and I should not be surprised if he set the town on fire." He stayed away from the meeting for some two weeks. In the meantime the work became so great as to confound his skepticism, and he was in a state of great perplexity. He was president of a bank in Utica, and used to go down to attend the weekly meeting of the directors. On one of these occasions, one of the directors began to rally him on the state of things in Rome, as if they were all running mad there. Mr. H remarked, "Gentlemen, say what you will, there is something very remarkable in the state of things in Rome. Certainly no human power or eloquence has produced what we see there. I cannot understand it. You say it will soon subside. No doubt the intensity of feeling that is now in Rome, must soon subside, or the people will become insane. But, gentlemen," said he, "there is no accounting for that state of feeling by any philosophy, unless there be something divine in it."

      Preaching Without Fear or Favor

      Finney continues, 'After Mr. H had stayed away from the meeting about two weeks, a few of us assembled one afternoon, to make him a special subject of prayer. The Lord gave us strong faith in praying for him; and we felt the conviction that the Lord was working in his soul. That evening he came to meeting. When he came into the house, Mr. Gillett whispered to me as he sat in the pulpit, and said, "Brother Finney, Mr. H has come. I hope you will not say anything that will offend him." "No," said I, "but I shall not spare him." In those days I was obliged to preach altogether without premeditation; for I had not an hour in a week, which I could take to arrange my thoughts beforehand. I chose my subject and preached. The Word took a powerful hold; and as I hoped and intended, it took a powerful hold of Mr. H himself. I think it was that very night, when I requested, at the close of the meeting, all those who had been converted that day and evening to come forward and report themselves, Mr. H was one who came deliberately, solemnly forward, and reported himself as having given his heart to God. He appeared humble and penitent, and I have always supposed, was truly converted to Christ.'

      Corporate Conviction

      Charles Finney tells of the overwhelming conviction that existed over the entire town when he preached. He describes the situation saying, 'The state of things in the village, and in the neighborhood round about, was such that no one could come into the village, without feeling awe-stricken with the impression that God was there, in a peculiar and wonderful manner. As an illustration of this, I will relate an incident. The sheriff of the county resided in Utica. There were two courthouses in the county, one at Rome, and the other at Utica; consequently the sheriff, B by name, had much business at Rome. He afterwards told me that he had heard of the state of things at Rome; and he, together with others, had a good deal of laughing, in the hotel where he boarded, about what they had heard. But one day it was necessary for him to go to Rome. He said that he was glad to have business there; for he wanted to see for himself what it was that people talked so much about, and what the state of things really was in Rome. He drove on in his one horse sleigh, as he told me, without any particular impression upon his mind at all, until he crossed what was called the old canal, a place about a mile, I think, from the town. He said as soon as he crossed the old canal, a strange impression came over him, an awe so deep that he could not shake it off. He felt as if God pervaded the whole atmosphere. He said that this increased the whole way, till he came to the village. He stopped at Mr. F's hotel, and the hostler came out and took his horse. He observed, he said, that the hostler looked just as he himself felt, as if he were afraid to speak. He went into the house, and found the gentleman there with whom he had business. He said they were manifestly all so much impressed; they could hardly attend to business. He said that several times, in the course of the short time he was there, he had to rise from the table abruptly, and go to the window and look out, and try to divert his attention, to keep from weeping. He observed, he said, that everybody else appeared to feel just as he did. Such an awe, such a solemnity, such a state of things, he had never had any conception of before. He hastened through with his business, and returned to Utica; but, as he said, never to speak lightly of the work at Rome again. A few weeks later, at Utica, he was hopefully converted; the circumstances of which I shall relate in the proper place.'


      In an atmosphere where God IS there is no tolerance for sin. God will bring great conviction before He sends judgment. God is not just a Loving God; He is also the LIVING God. I am reminded of the passage in Hebrews, 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.' What would it be to fall into the hands of one whom after destroying the body could then cast the eternal soul into incomprehensible everlasting torments? Because of the Fear of the Lord- men depart from evil. Do we fear Him- or do we have an ungodly humanism? Are we willing to get about our lives in such a way that God could show up? When the Priest was going into the Holy of Holies God gave strict instruction about it- even the very details of the clothing. How much more ought we to go into our lives and set them in order so that God can move among us? Or will we be as Israel and vail the glory because the people preferred to ‘rise up to play'? Will we hear his voice? Will we harden our hearts as in the Day of Provocation? We need the greatest outpouring of the Holy Ghost in the history of the Church. Who will fear Him and reverence Him enough that He will once again make His habitation among us?   

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