God sometimes uses strange instruments to accomplish his gracious purposes. Such was the case in late 1830 when a young man named Alvah Strong (1809–1875) was converted under the ministry of Charles Finney (1792–1875).
For roughly six months during the fall and winter of 1830 and ’31, Finney held revival meetings in Rochester, New York. At the invitation of a friend, Strong somewhat reluctantly came to Rochester to hear the famous evangelist. Strong sought out Finney in his room at the Eagle Hotel. Upon opening the hotel room door, the evangelist motioned for Strong to sit by the stove while he finished a letter he was working on. A few minutes later, Finney approached the young man and asked why he had come. Strong explained that he had been thinking about the subject of religion and thought he should become a Christian but that he “had no feeling.” In response, Finney grabbed an iron poker that lay near the stove and waved it menacingly in Strong’s face. The young man stood up and moved to avoid the makeshift weapon. Finney retorted, “Ah, you feel now, don’t you.” Then, laying aside the poker, Finney immediately returned to his correspondence. Strong went away initially disappointed and somewhat offended. But on further reflection, he realized that Finney had employed an object lesson and that if he was afraid of an iron poker he ought to fear hell much more. Soon thereafter, Strong was apparently converted. The following year, he was baptized into the membership of the First Baptist Church of Rochester where he would remain in fellowship for the next fifty-five years (Autobiography of Augustus Hopkins Strong, 32–33).
A few years after his conversion, Strong married a young lady named Catherine Hopkins, and a few years later their first son was born. They named the boy Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836–1921). Like his father, Augustus would also be converted under the influence of Charles Finney. Furthermore, Augustus would eventually serve as president and professor of theology at Rochester Theological Seminary for forty years and would write numerous books including a systematic theology that would be a standard textbook in Baptist seminaries throughout much of the twentieth century.
Such conversion stories remind us that God often uses what we might consider strange means to bring about his will in this world. A brief encounter with a theologically misguided evangelist and an iron poker was instrumental in pushing young Alvah Strong to abandon his spiritual apathy. And both Alvah and his son Augustus were converted under the ministry of an evangelist known for using questionable methods and preaching a weak gospel. While we should always strive to present the gospel in a way that is both clear and accurate, the conversion of Alvah and Augustus illustrates the fact that salvation is of God, and he is able to save sinners in spite of the shortcomings of flawed messengers. For such we should be very thankful.