Finney is best known as an innovative revivalist, The Father of Modern Revivalism. And he paved the way for later mass-evangelists like Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
Biography, Life and Ministry of Charles G. Finney, The Father of Modern Revivalism
Charles Grandison Finney was an American Presbyterian minister and leader in the Second Great Awakening in the United States. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism.
Finney was best known as an innovative revivalist during the period 1825–1835 in upstate New York and Manhattan, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian perfectionism, and a religious writer.
Born in Warren, Connecticut, on August 29, 1792, Finney was the youngest of nine children. He and his family attended the Baptist church in Henderson, New York, where the preacher led emotional, revival-style meetings. He began studying law, as an apprentice to become a lawyer under Benjamin Wright, a judge in Adams, but after a dramatic conversion experience and baptism into the Holy Spirit in Adams, he gave up legal practice to preach the gospel.
After his conversion, Finney prepared for ministry in the Presbyterian church and was ordained in 1824. Hired by the Female Missionary Society of the Western District, he began his missionary labors in the frontier communities of upper New York.
Finney urged his listeners to accept Christ openly and publicly. His style was different; his messages were more like a lawyer’s argument than a pastor’s sermon.
At Evans Mills, he was troubled that the congregations continuously said they were “pleased” with his sermons. He set about to make his message less pleasing and more productive. At the end of his sermon, which stressed the need for conversion, he took a bold step: “You who have made up your minds to become Christians, and will give your pledge to make your peace with God immediately, should rise up.”
Finney was active as a revivalist from 1825 to 1835, in Jefferson County and for a few years in Manhattan. In 1830-31, he led a revival in Rochester, New York that has been noted as inspiring other revivals of the Second Great Awakening. A leading pastor in New York who was converted in the Rochester meetings gave the following account of the effects of Finney’s meetings in that city: “The whole community was stirred. Religion was the topic of conversation in the house, in the shop, in the office and on the street. The only theater in the city was converted into a livery stable; the only circus into a soap and candle factory. Grog shops were closed; the Sabbath was honored; the sanctuaries were thronged with happy worshippers; a new impulse was given to every philanthropic enterprise; the fountains of benevolence were opened, and men lived to good.”
He was known for his innovations in preaching and the conduct of religious meetings, which often impacted entire communities. These included having women pray out loud in public meetings of mixed sexes; development of the “anxious seat”, a place where those considering becoming Christians could sit to receive prayer; and public censure of individuals by name in sermons and prayers. He was also known for his extemporaneous preaching.
The zenith of Finney’s evangelistic career was reached at Rochester, New York, where he preached 98 sermons between September 10, 1830, and March 6, 1831. Shopkeepers closed their businesses, posting notices urging people to attend Finney’s meetings. Reportedly, the population of the town increased by two-thirds during the revival, but crime dropped by two-thirds over the same period.
From Rochester, he began an almost continuous revival in New York City as minister of the Second Free Presbyterian Church. He soon became disenchanted with Presbyterianism, however (due largely to his growing belief that people could, with God, perfect themselves). In 1834, he moved into the huge Broadway Tabernacle his followers had built for him.
He stayed there for only a year, leaving to pastor Oberlin Congregation Church and teach theology at Oberlin College. In 1851, he was appointed president, which gave him a new forum to advocate social reforms he championed, especially abolition of slavery.
Finney, an innovative revivalist is called the “father of modern revivalism” by some historians, and he paved the way for later mass-evangelists like Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
See Also: List Of Books By Charles Finney
Finney was twice a widower and married three times. In 1824, he married Lydia Root Andrews (1804–1847) while living in Jefferson County. They had six children together. In 1848, a year after Lydia’s death, he married Elizabeth Ford Atkinson (1799–1863) in Ohio. In 1865 he married Rebecca Allen Rayl (1824–1907), also in Ohio. Each of Finney’s three wives accompanied him on his revival tours and joined him in his evangelistic efforts. Finney died on August 16, 1875 (aged 82) in Oberlin, Ohio, U.S.
Finney’s great-grandson, also named Charles Grandison Finney, became a famous author.