August 29th, 1792- August 16th, 1875
The Father of Modern Revivalism
When you think of revival, it is hard not to think of Charles G. Finney. His messages on revival would inspire many and result in revivals being birthed globally. People like James McQuilkin (the Ulster Revival 1859), and the Booths were among but a few who were personally inspired by Finney. Looking at where he finished and how he became a true history maker, his early years gave no inclination of his later days. His life demonstrated the power of conversion and the Holy Spirit to take a person and radically change them.
His Early years
Charles Finney was born on August 29th, 1792, a year after the death of John Wesley. Charles was born to Sylvester and Rebecca Finney. His name came from the title of a novel by Samuel Richardson, Sir Charles Grandison. It was the story of an English aristocrat, and maybe his parents envisioned an excellent future for Charles, though no one could have imagined what he indeed became.
It was just after the war of independence, and it was a time of significant change. People began migrating westwards. It was also a time of growing attacks against Christianity. After the war, religion was in decline, and the spiritual climate was not very good.
Charles was born in Warren, Connecticut. Before Charles was born, his parents had four daughters (Sarah, Dotia, Zenas, and Chloe) and two sons (Sylvester Jr. and Harry). When Charles was two years old, the Finney’s moved to the wilderness of Oneida County in upstate New York. Shortly afterward, his parents had another son, George Washington, followed by Sylvester Rice. Around the time Sylvester Rice was born, his older brother Sylvester Jr. died. Sylvester Rice would die not long after in 1808.
Charles father had been part of the militia during the War of Independence, and he was a farmer. His family was not very religious, and Charles received no religious instruction in his early years. Charles grandfather, Josiah was one of the earliest settlers in Warren, and he had purchased the land on which the Congregational church had their first meeting-house.1Their first son, Sylvester, was born in 1759.
Charles was a bright child and, by the age of fifteen or sixteen, began teaching at the local one-room schoolhouse. The Finney’s then moved to the wilderness around Henderson Bay on Lake Ontario which was near Sackets Harbor, New York
Charles once again found a position as a teacher at the local school. The young Charles loved music and saved up money to buy himself a cello. He was also fond of sports, and being six foot two at that time made him very large.
Charles the Lawyer
In 1812, Charles set off for Connecticut to further his education. Here at Warren, he attended high school and sought to take a university class, but his teacher opposed the idea. It was here that he heard the preaching of Rev. Peter Starr. Revival had spread to many areas of the western frontier. The revivalists held prayer meetings marked with great fervency in their prayers.2 One meeting Finney had experienced, he saw the people kneeling on the floor, “began to groan, and sigh, and weep, and agonize in prayer.”3 At the Presbyterian Church, he found Rev. Starr’s preaching unattractive.
Finney then headed south to New Jersey and again taught school. Here the only preaching he heard was in German, and it meant nothing to him. However, after hearing that his mother was in poor health, he returned home. Back home, Charles began to study law at the Law Office of Benjamin Wright in the nearby town of Adams. Within a few years, Charles was admitted to the bar and began his profession as a lawyer.
In Adams, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church was a Princeton graduate and staunch Calvinist. They held regular prayer meetings, and Charles would attend them as often as he could. Charles also became the leader of the choir. At one of the prayer meetings Charles said-
“I suppose I need to be prayed for, for I am conscious that I am a sinner; but I do not see that it will do any good for you to pray for me; for you are continually asking, but you do not receive. You have been praying for a revival of religion ever since I have been in Adams, and yet you have it not. You have been praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon yourselves, and yet complaining of your leanness” I recollect having used this expression at that time: “You have prayed enough since I have attended these meetings to have prayed the devil out of Adams, if there is any virtue in your prayers. But here you are praying on, and complaining still.” 3
The people had prayed long for Charles with no avail. In studying law, Charles had gained a new interest in the Bible. He would often debate with people over the Bible. All the while, Charles was becoming restless.
Charles read his Bible and determined the reason their prayers were not answered was because they failed to met the conditions for answered prayer. They were not praying in faith.
Charles was being disturbed on the inside. He knew he had to either accept Christ as presented in the Gospels or pursue w worldly course of life. On a Sunday during the Fall of 1821, Finney made a decision he was going to settle the question of his salvation. Charles knew he had to give it his full attention and was concerned his work would prevent him. However, that Monday and Tuesday proved to be quiet days, and he had the opportunity to read his Bible and pray. However, Charles was keen to make sure no one knew of his seeking. So, Charles kept his Bible out of sight.
During the Monday and Tuesday, the conviction grew inside of Charles. He found himself unable to pray or even cry. That Tuesday evening, Charles felt as if he would die, and he knew if he did, he would go to hell. He went back to the office early the next morning. He heard an inward voice say-
“What are you waiting for? Did you promise to give your heart to God? And what are you trying to do? Are you endeavoring to work out a righteousness on your own?”4
Finney stopped and stood there for some time. Finally, he decided he would accept salvation or die trying. Just north of the village, there was a wood, and as it was a pleasant October day, he decided to go for a walk through them. All the while, his pride kept him concerned that someone might see him. Finally, he got far enough away from the village that no one could see him, and there he found an opening. It was like a prayer closet. He kept repeating “I will give my heart to God, or I will never come down from there.”4
Here Finney struggled, but he was determined not to leave until he had received Christ. Charles became aware of his sin of pride, and suddenly, it became awful to him. He was broken before the Lord. Here he heard a Scripture verse, “Then shall ye go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall you seek Me and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart.”6
Finney knew the Lord was speaking to Him. Finney stayed and continued to receive more promises from the Word. At one point, he determined that if he was ever converted, he would preach the Gospel.
Finney returned to the village. He had left early that morning, October 10th, and returned at dinner time. He went for dinner but could not eat. He meets with a friend, and they began playing worship music, but as soon as Finney began singing, he found himself weeping.
After dinner, they began moving furniture into another office. When evening came, the man left, and Finney was alone. Suddenly, Finney’s heart became like liquid, and he began pouring out his heart before the Lord. Suddenly, everything faded and although there was no fire and no light, everything appeared lit to him. As he went to shut the door, Finney felt like he met Jesus face to face. Jesus said nothing just looked at him. As Jesus did, Charles was broken and began weeping. He bathed Jesus feet with his tears.
Afterward, Finney went into his front office and started a fire. As he sat down suddenly, he felt a baptism in the Holy Spirit. He could not recall anyone mentioning such a thing, but he felt the Holy Spirit descend upon him.
“The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love – for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God.”7
Here Finney remained for some time experiencing wave after wave of the Holy Spirit pouring the love of God into and through him. He began speaking as he put it, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushing of my heart.”8
Suddenly a member of the choir came and found Finney weeping. He asked if he was in pain, and Finney could only explain that he was so happy that he could live. The man came in, and the elder from the church found it impossible to stop laughing from the depths of his being. The man was soon also converted. As Finney spoke to the elder, another young man came in and listened with astonishment. He asked for prayer too.
The next morning when he arose, everything was different. The sunlight made an impression on him like never before. That night the Holy Spirit fell upon him like He had the night before, and it knew the Holy Spirit had taken possession of his soul.9 His sense of guilt that he had struggled with was gone, and it was if he had never sinned. He felt justified by faith. Finney could not even recover the sense of guilt he had, but instead, he felt justified.
Finney had read the story of David Brainerd9 now could relate to David’s conversion.
The Calvinist Barriers to God
Charles struggled with the very issue that had separated George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, the universal love of God, and freedom of will. The Presbyterian church believed in the Calvin doctrine that God’s sovereignty was preached as supreme in all matters, including salvation. The elect” of God was predestined by Him to receive salvation and the cross covered their sin only. Therefore no one could fully know if they were saved or ot as it was wholly dependent on the will of God. All were expected to live a holy life before God, fearing if they didn’t they would encounter the wrath of God. Calvinists knew how to pray but didn’t believe their prayers could have an effect on the will of God. They believed that everything that was going to happen was already established to happen even before the world began. Finney began to see that people believed more what was preached from the pulpit that what they read in the Bible. Finney saw God as a righteous judge and the Bible as His Word and written law to humanity.
The beginning of Finney’s Ministry
In his office, a man came in, and seeing Finney, and he was astonished. He saw Finney, and though Finney said nothing, the man was convicted and soon received Christ. Then the deacon came in whom Finney was representing as a lawyer. He reminded him that his case was up that morning at ten o’clock. He asked Finney if he was ready, and Finney responded, “I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead His cause, and I cannot plead yours.”10
Finney knew he as called to preach the Gospel and began looking for opportunities to share the Good News. The call now consumed Finney. He was determined to preach to anyone whom he might meet. Finney began making a lasting impression on all whom he did speak to that day and everyone he talked to was converted.
He went to tea with a group o young people, including one who was a professed Universalist. When they sat down suddenly, Finney was overcome with compassion for them that he began to weep. The young man ran off and locked himself in his room, refusing to come out until the next morning. When he did come out, he was converted. Needless to say, word spread throughout the village. The people at the church wondered what had happened and the pastor convinced Finney was not converted nor could be converted as Finney had been so hardened at the Gospel. A lawyer friend told everyone it was merely a hoax, so everyone went to the church. Finney went, and the building was packed. Finney began to share, and everyone was impacted, including the pastor. Finney now focused his time on laboring to see everyone converted and one by one they were. The word spread quickly.
Finney then went to Henderson, where his father lived. Only Finney’s younger brother had received the Lord, but not long after his arrival, his father and mother were both saved. A small revival broke during the next month’s prayer meeting. Everywhere Finney went, the anointing on his life caused people to come to Christ.
Eager to fulfill his call, Finney was trained to be a Presbyterian minister. He decided not to go to Princeton but rather to have Rev. Gale, the local pastor, train him.
“I used to spend a great deal of time in prayer; sometimes, I thought, literally praying “without ceasing.” I also found it very profitable, and felt very much inclined to hold frequent days of private fasting. On those days I would seek to be entirely alone with God, and would generally wander off into the woods, or get into the meeting house, or somewhere away entirely by myself. Sometimes I would pursue a wrong course in fasting, and attempt to examine myself according to the ideas of self-examination then entertained by my minister and the church, I would try to look into my own heart, in the sense of examining my feelings; and would turn my attention particularly to my motives, and the state of my mind. When I pursued this course, I found invariably that the day would close without any perceptible advance being made. Afterwards I saw clearly why this was so. Turning my attention, as I did, from the Lord Jesus Christ, and looking into myself, examining my motives and feelings, my feelings all subsided of course. But whenever I fasted, and let the Spirit take his own course with me, and gave myself up to let him lead and instruct me, I universally found it in the highest degree useful. I found I could not live without enjoying the presence of God; and if at any time a cloud came over me, I could not rest, I could not study, I could not attend to anything with the least satisfaction or benefit, until the medium was again cleared between my soul and God.”12
The Anointing of Power
Charles understood the importance of faith in praying, and soon as he started praying for the sick, they would be healed. Charles was marked by intensity. His worship and his prayer life was intense. The burden for the lost and even the sick was also all-consuming, and he could not but respond because of the love of God. When the sister-in-law of the Judge became sick he was moved. Finney went to the meeting house to pray and he was only able to-
“Groan with groanings deep and abroad.”13
We see this in Romans chapter eight, verse twenty- sick. Finney could find no peace because of a holy disturbance inside of him. Finally, Finney felt a release and that his prayer was answered. Shortly afterward, the lady arose healed.
Finney learned that there was power in prayer. His ability to influence and persuade people regarding the truths of the Word was much helped by prayer. Pray released the anointing of the Holy Spirit and none could resist the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
“When Christ commissioned his apostles to go and preach, he told them to abide at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high. This power, as every one knows, was the baptism of the Holy Ghost poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. This was an indispensable qualification for success in their ministry. I did not suppose then, nor do I now, that this baptism was simply the power to work miracles. The power to work miracles and the gift of tongues were given as signs to attest the reality of their divine commission. But the baptism itself was a divine purifying, an anointing bestowing on them a divine illumination, filling them with faith, and love, with peace and power; so that their words were made sharp in the hearts of God’s enemies, quick and powerful, like a two-edged sword. This is an indispensable qualification of a successful ministry; and I have often been surprised and pained that to this day so little stress is laid upon this qualification for preaching Christ to a sinful world. Without the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, a man will never make much progress in preaching the Gospel. The fact is, unless he can preach the Gospel as an experience, present religion to mankind as a matter of consciousness, his speculations and theories will come far short of preaching the Gospel.”
In March 1824, the presbytery came to Adams to examine and ordain Charles. The presbytery avoided asking questions regarding their disagreements on doctrine.
To Finney each, “sinner, under the influence of the Spirit of God, is just as free as a jury under arguments of an advocate.” Charles stated- “Suppose a lawyer, in addressing a jury, should not expect to change their minds by anything he could say, but should wait for an invisible and physical agency, to be exerted by the Holy Ghost upon them.”14
A wife for Charles
Finney was ordained on July 1st, 1824. He preached in his “plain and pointed.”15 manner. He preached using illustrations from the everyday affairs of the people. But what surprised the clergy about him was he could get up and preach on the spur of the moment.”16
Finney didn’t want to preach in an established church or to a regular congregation, so he took a position with the women’s missionary society of Oneida County. Thus position meant traveling around from Evans Mills to Antwerp in Upstate New York.
During this time, Charles had been engaged for some time to Lydia Andrews from Whitestown in Oneida County. Charles and Lydia were married on October 5th, 1825. Charles then settled down and pastored at Evans Mills.
Just after the wedding, Finney went north to Jefferson County with the intention of returning in a week. However, a revival broke out that lasted six months. On his way home, Finney stopped at LesRaysville, and the people begged him to preach. Once again, a revival broke out. Lydia became accustomed to the fact that Finney’s greatest love was the Lord.
When Finney preached his message was straight and he held no punches. Finney also enjoyed watching people “falling under the power of God.”17 Finney would encourage people to go house to house organizing meetings in various houses throughout the region. He preached with a powerful anointing of power.
Many ministers would come to see Finney’s religious performances as they saw them. As he preached under the anointing, people would simply melt. The converts would start “falling” in the Spirit, have “holy laughter,” and Finney would rely on the Holy Spirit to provide the text and the sermon.18
The Prayer Warrior
While he was at Evans Mills, Daniel Nash came to see him again. Nash was suffering from an eye infection and, as a result, gave himself to prayer. When Finney meet him last, he was backslidden, but now he was on fire for God and healed. Together they began praying together.
Oneida County was fast being developed and prospering during the 1820’s. Charles and Lydia moved in with Rev. Gale on his farm in Western. This then allowed Finney to begin his urban evangelization. At the time, religion was in Finney’s words at a low watermark in the Presbyterian church. He was invited by Rev. Gale to a prayer meeting at the local church. Finney agreed to come and sat for awhile simply watching. Then he spoke out and accused them of a mock prayer meeting. 19 Everyone present dropped to their knees and prayed. Next week the church was packed. Finney preached and the power of God fell.
On December 25th, Finney preached at Western again, and the power fell. People began to agonize, shriek loudly, faint and swoon. All this despite efforts by the church leaders to prevent such emotionalism.
Nash and Finney worked together, traveling throughout Oneida County.
A narrative was written of Finney’s works during that year in Oneida County- A Narrative of the Revival of Religion, in the County of Oneida, Particularly in the Bounds of the Presbytery of Oneida, in the Year 1826.
From 1825 through 1827, Charles traveled as an itinerant evangelist traveling throughout the western frontier that had gained the nickname, the burned-over district. From 1827 until June of 1829, Charles ministered in Delaware and Pennsylvania. From October 1829 through May 1830, Charles ministered in New York. By now, Charles had the attention of the press. The newspapers recorded the larger numbers filling the building when Finney came to preach.
Finney also developed enemies, including Lyman Beecher and Asahel Nettleton, and they harshly criticized Finney. Finney had begun using the “Anxious Seat,” used by Methodist for those in a camp meeting who were anxious about their salvation. Beecher challenged Finney, “Finney, I know your plan and you know I do; you mean to come to Connecticut and carry a streak of fire to Boston. But if you attempt it, as the Lord liveth, I’ll meet you at the state line and call out the artillerymen and fight every inch of the way to Boston and then I’ll fight you there.”20
Many joined Nettleton, and Beecher and Charles was presented as a harsh inquisitor of the audiences and not a man pleading for souls for Jesus. The people were divided into two groups, those who opposed and those who loved Finney. Regardless, Charles was anointed and everywhere he went, power fell. His brotehr0in-law took him to a mill one morning-
“The next morning, after breakfast, I went into the factory, to look through it. As I went through, I observed there was a good deal of agitation among those who were busy at their looms, and their mules, and other implements of work. On passing through one of the apartments, where a great number of young women were attending to their weaving, I observed a couple of them eyeing me, and speaking very earnestly to each other; and I could see that they were a good deal agitated, although they both laughed. I went slowly toward them. They saw me coming, and were evidently much excited. One of them was trying to mend a broken thread, and I observed that her hands trembled so that she could not mend it. I approached slowly, looking on each side at the machinery, as I passed; but observed that this girl grew more and more agitated, and could not proceed with her work. When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She observed it, and was quite overcome, and sank down, and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like powder, and in a few moments nearly all in the room were in tears. This feeling spread through the factory. Mr. W—, the owner of the establishment, was present, and seeing the state of things, he said to the superintendent, “Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory run.” The gate was immediately shut down, and the factory stopped; but where should we assemble? The superintendent suggested that the mule room was large; and, the mules being run up, we could assemble there. We did so, and a more powerful meeting I scarcely ever attended. It went on with great power. The building was large, and had many people in it, from the garret to the cellar. The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in the course of a few days nearly all in the mill were hopefully converted.”
In September 1830, Charles went to Rochester, New York. It was at that time a fast-growing town, with about ten thousand residents. During Finney’s time there, almost everyone was converted. The church building was not large enough to hold the crowds. The revival reached communities hundreds of miles away. Even Lyman Beecher, Finney’s harshest critic, would later state that what happened at Rochester was ‘the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen, in so short a time. One hundred thousand… were reported as having connected themselves with churches…This… is unparalleled in the history of the church, and the progress of religion.”2
Finney had believers praying for the services and crying out for the Holy Spirit to descend. The newspapers recorded, “At an early hour an immense concourse assembled, crowding every part of that large house, above and below, wherever an individual could sit or stand. At the same time the vestibule was filled, and great numbers were compelled to go away who could not possibly get within sound of the preacher’s voice. We shall not attempt to describe, nor can the reader easily conceive, the impression made upon our mind in looking over the dense mass…During this awfully solemn interval when so great a congregation were upon their knees before God, it did seem that the heavens were dropping down righteousness over our heads, and that then if ever was the time that sinners must submit and humble themselves before an offended God and sovereign.”23
The revival went on from September 1830 and March 1831 and would become the height of the Second Great Awakening. Many preachers would also take up the revival torch, including Beecher, and preach throughout the United States. The revival brought a great unity to the country in 1831 as everyone became focused on religion.
Pastoring in New York
The revival preaching at Rochester took a significant toll on Charles, and doctors were concerned he had consumption, and several thought he would die. He was invited in the Soring of 1831 to preach at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He went there by coach. The journey was tough, and after three days they were only as far as Auburn. Here he was invited to preach. He slowly made his way to Boston, whereby now opposition had dropped, and he was able to preach there. Charles would leave Boston to go to New York, where he began pastoring in April 1832.
In New York, some businessmen paid to convert the Chatham Street Theater into a church. Here he would preach to crowds of around two thousand. Church members were instructed-
“To scatter themselves over the whole house, and to keep their eyes open, in regard to any that were seriously affected under preaching, and if possible, to detail them after preaching, for conversation and prayer.”24
At the installation service on September 28th, 1832 Charles took seriously ill and came down with cholera. He would survive but the treatment took a major toll on him. Finney was unable to resume preaching until the spring of 1833. He would be forced to take another break due to fatigue and toll of the cholera treatment in January 1834. To help him recover, Charles made a six-month sea voyage. He went to the Mediterranean Sea and the Islands of Malta and Sicily.
Charles recorded in his memoirs-
“cause of the slave, and advocated it in the New York Evangelist. I watched the discussion with a good deal of attention and anxiety, and when I was about to leave, on the sea voyage to which I have referred, I admonished Mr. Leavitt to be careful and not go too fast, in the discussion of the anti-slavery question, lest he should destroy his paper. On my homeward passage, my mind became exceedingly exercised on the question of revivals. I feared that they would decline throughout the country. I feared that the opposition that had been made to them, had grieved the Holy Spirit. My own health, it appeared to me, had nearly or quite broken down; and I knew of no other evangelist that would take the field, and aid pastors in revival work. This view of the subject distressed me so much that one day I found myself unable to rest. My soul was in an utter agony. I spent almost the entire day in prayer in my state room, or walking the deck in intense agony, in view of the state of things. In fact I felt crushed with the burden that was on my soul. There was no one on board to whom I could open my mind, or say a word. It was the spirit of prayer that was upon me; that which I had often before experienced in kind, but perhaps never before to such a degree, for so long a time. I besought the Lord to go on with his work, and to provide himself with such instrumentalities as were necessary. It was a long summer day, in the early part of July. After a day of unspeakable wrestling and agony in my soul, just at night, the subject cleared up to my mind. The Spirit led me to believe that all would come out right, and that God had yet a work for me to do; that I might be at rest; that the Lord would go forward with his work, and give me strength to take any part in it that he desired. But I had not the least idea what the course of his providence would be.”25
During the trip, Charles became disturbed on the issue of slavery. He desired that white and black people should be able to sit side by side.26 At the Chatham church blacks were allowed to attend but sat in different sections than white people. Finney began denouncing slavery in his preaching and even refused slave owners communion.
His stance angered pro-slavery people who burnt down his new church he was building in Broadway. A new building was built that could hold twenty-four hundred people and was finished in 1836.
The New York Evangelist took up Finney’s cause and, as a result, lost subscribers. The editor asked for Finney’s help, and after praying for a few days, Finney agreed to allow them to publish his lectures on revival. The plan worked, and people began to subscribe even at a faster rate. These lecturers were later printed in a book that was called, Finney’s Lectures on Revival. The book was sold throughout the world and would help inspire new rivals.
The success of Finney’s ministry and revivals resulted in many wanting to go into ministry. Finney was now being requested to teach theology. The Lane Seminary in Cincinnati Ohio, was composed of many converted in revivals who believed slavery was a sin. But many of the trustees at the Seminary owned slaves and sought to silence the students. Asa Mahan, one of the trustees took up the student’s cause, and when the students left to form a new college, he left with them to form Oberlin College. The students requested Charles Finney as their professor. Finney moved to Oberlin in the summer of 1835.
Charles accepted the position that whites and blacks were to be treated the same and that there would be no segregation based on color or gender. Charles believed strongly in educating women.
In 1840, the College began teaching students. In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson graduated as the first African American in the United States and perhaps in the world to receive her bachelor’s degree.27
President James Garfield later wrote of Oberlin- “that no college in the land had more effectively touched the nerve centers of the national life and thought and ennobled them than did this institution to which Charles Finney devoted so many years of Christian service.”28
Charles took issues with the Presbyterian church in regards to discipline, and on March 13th, 1836, he transferred his ordination to the Congregational Church. Between the summer of 1835 and Arpil 1837, Charles continued to pastor the New York City church traveling back and forth from Oberlin. In April he resigned and took over the position as pastor of the church in Oberlin in May of 1837. While, Charles high call was as an evangelist, The First Church of Oberlin and Oberlin College prospered under his leadership. The church would become the largest building west of the Appalachians.
In Oberlin, Charles took on other social issues such as the temperance movement, Sabbath-keeping, and women’s rights in the church. Unfortunately, while soul winning remained the focus of Charles, many who attended Oberlin lost their way and became focused on social issues and missed their high call.
During 1842, Finney would also hold some revival meetings in Boston, Providence and New York City.
A Deeper Baptism
During his early years at Oberlin, Finney grew disturbed as he watched many who were converted in revivals backsliding. He became convinced that there was a deeper conversion or “second blessing” available beyond the initial conversion. Charles believed that there was a further work of the Holy Spirit that allowed believers to live holy lives, and during his time at Oberlin, he developed the theme the “Second Blessing.”
In the winter of 1843, Finney was invited once again to Boston. Here he found the people hardened to the Gospel. Finney became holy disturbed and began praying.
Finney wrote about what happened-
“During this winter, the Lord gave my own soul a very thorough overhauling, and a fresh baptism of his Spirit. I boarded at the Marlborough hotel, and my study and bedroom were in one corner of the chapel building. My mind was greatly drawn out in prayer, for a long time; as indeed it always has been, when I have labored in Boston. I have been favored there, uniformly, with a great deal of the spirit of prayer. But this winter, in particular, my mind was exceedingly exercised on the question of personal holiness; and in respect to the state of the church, their want of power with God; the weakness of the orthodox churches in Boston, the weakness of their faith, and their want of power in the midst of such a community. The fact that they were making little or no progress in overcoming the errors of that city, greatly affected my mind. I gave myself to a great deal of prayer. After my evening services, I would retire as early as I well could; but rose at four o’clock in the morning, because I could sleep no longer, and immediately went to the study, and engaged in prayer. And so deeply was my mind exercised, and so absorbed in prayer, that I frequently continued from the time I arose, at four o’clock, till the gong called to breakfast, at eight o’clock. My days were spent, so far as I could get time, in searching the Scriptures. I read nothing else, all that winter, but my Bible; and a great deal of it seemed new to me. Again the Lord took me, as it were, from Genesis to Revelation. He led me to see the connection of things, the promises, threatenings, the prophecies and their fulfilment; and indeed, the whole Scripture seemed to me all ablaze with light, and not only light, but it seemed as if God’s word was instinct with the very life of God.29
I said that this winter in Boston, was spent mostly in preaching to professed Christians, and that many of them were greatly blessed in their souls. I felt very confident that, unless the foundations could be relaid in some sense, and that unless the Christians in Boston took on a higher type of Christian living, they never could prevail against Unitarianism. I knew that the orthodox ministers had been preaching orthodoxy, as opposed to Unitarianisin, for many years; and that all that could be accomplished by discussion, had been accomplished. But I felt that what Unitarians needed, was to see Christians live out the pure Gospel of Christ. They needed to hear them say, and prove what they said by their lives, that Jesus Christ was a divine Saviour, and able to save them from all sin. Their professions of faith in Christ, did not accord with their experiences. They could not say that they found Christ in their experience, what they preached him to be. There is needed the testimony of God’s living witnesses, the testimony of experience, to convince the Unitarians; and mere reasonings and arguments, however conclusive, will never overcome their errors and their prejudices. The orthodox churches there, are too formal; they are in bondage to certain ways; they are afraid of measures, afraid to launch forth in all freedom, in the use of means to save souls. They have always seemed to me, to be in bondage in their prayers, insomuch that what I call the spirit of prayer, I have seldom witnessed in Boston. The ministers and deacons of the churches, though good men, are afraid of what the Unitarians will say, if, in their measures to promote religion, they launch out in such a way as to wake the people up. Everything must be done in a certain way. The Holy Spirit is grieved by their yielding to such a bondage. I have labored in Boston in five powerful revivals of religion; and I must express it as my sincere conviction, that the greatest difficulty in the way of overcoming Unitarianism, and all the forms of error there, is the timidity of Christians and churches.”30
Death of His wife
In 1841, Lydia grew frail before giving birth to their fifth child, Sarah. Sarah died on March 9th, 1843 In 1844, Delia was born before dying on September 1st 1852. Throughout it all Lydia remained a strong supporter of Charles despite the demands of his ministry. In December 1847, Lydia called all her children in, and on her deathbed prayed over them. On December 17th, Lydia passed away.
It proved a very difficult time for Charles, and without the experience he had in Boston, he may never have endured it. Charles was left with five children: Helen, 19, who married William Cochrane, an Oberlin professor; Charles, 17, Fredrick, 15; Julia, 13; and Delia, who was three.
With all the demands on Charles, it was difficult for him to remain single, and on November 13th 1848, he married a widower, Elizabeth Ford Atkinson.
His Final Years
In the Fall of 1848, Charles and Elizabeth traveled to Great Britain. Here again Finney saw great success. In 1851, Charles was made the president of Oberlin College, though he still continued to travel as he was able. Between 181-1857, he traveled to Boston, New York, Hartford, Connecticut, and Rochester. Then in 1859, he traveled back to Briain on a trip that drained him.
In 1863, Elizabeth passed away, and Charles would marry for a third time. This time he married Rebecca Allen Rayl. In 1866, Charles resigned from Oberlin and finished his Memoirs in 1868, even though they were not published until a year after his death.
On August 16th, 1875, just two weeks shy of his eighty-third birthday Charles Finney went home to be with the Lord.
- Wright, Frederick., D.D., LL. D. Charles Grandison Finney. Houghton, Mufflin and Company. Boston. 1893
- Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. Charles FG Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelis
Stowe pages 9, 10m. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996. Page 9
- Finney, Charles. Charles G. Finney An Autobiography . Revival Press. Kindle Edition. Loc 192
- Finney loc 257
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- Finney loc 343
- Finney loc 372
- Finney, Charles G. Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney written by himself. Page 23
- Stowe page 17
- Memoirs page 24
- Memoirs page 35-36
- Liardon page 302
- Stowes page 35
- Stowes page 40
- Stowes page 40
- Stowes page 43
- Stowes page 45
- Stowes page 48
- Lairdon page 311
- Finney loc 28902
- Liardon page 316
- North Star (Canville, Vermont). 12 Apr 1831, Tue page 1
- Liardon page 321
- Finney loc 5127
- Finney loc 5098
- Liardon page 325
- Liardon page 326
- Finney loc 5793
- Finey loc 5960