Monday, May 18, 2009

Charles Grandison Who?

Finney. Ever heard of him?

A man whose determination to seek and understand the truth was matched by his commitment to communicating that truth once he found it.

Finney was converted to Christianity at the age of twenty-nine, the process of his conversion including a prolonged period of study, seeking the truth about the central claims of Christianity. Having been convinced on this level, Finney prayed, determined to resolve his growing anxiety about the subject. He records what happened in almost scientific detail in his autobiography:

"There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me... that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He...looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. I... regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed to me a reality... I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to Him…"

Following his conversion experience, Finney resigned his apprenticeship as a lawyer and studied to become a minister. He refused to attend Princeton, the Presbyterian theological College, and studied under his pastor for two years before successfully taking the examination and being accepted as a Presbyterian minister.

Finney profoundly disagreed with the staunch and narrow form of Calvinism prevalent in Presbyterian churches at the time of his conversion. He urged potential converts to make their decision to believe in Jesus Christ and to choose to live good lives. Finney’s ministry saw him travel to many small towns and villages in and around the state of New York. His preaching was the catalyst for ‘revivals’ that brought many face to face with the message about Jesus. Though people disagree about the validity of Finney’s methods (and his theology) his impact cannot be understated and his revivals came to be known as the first of the Second Great Awakening.

In 1832 Finney moved to New York City and became a pastor of two congregations. He eventually accepted the call to become professor and later president at Oberlin College (one of the first in America to co-educate men and women, white and black). Finney’s gospel message impacted many communities and thousands of individuals. He was also a fierce abolitionist, denouncing slavery from the pulpit in a time when to do so was unpopular.

Though I am not so sure about all of Finney’s measures, I do admire his whole hearted approach. I would like to emulate him in dedication to following the course God has laid out for me.

This is his description of his own reaction upon his conversion:

“No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart.”

I love to think of this grand, intense man, bellowing with love in large, loud moans and groans. Such passion is not often encountered methinks.

Finney, CG (1873) Memoirs of revivals found at Harvey, BC (1989) Charles Finney: The great revivalist, Barbour publishing, Uhrichsville, Ohio
Shelley, BL (1995) Church History in Plain language. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville.
Linden, DH (accessed 10/5/9) ‘Charles Finney’s Doctrine of Justification’ in Reformation and Revival Journal , Vol. 6, issue No.4, published online at
Horton, M (accessed 10/5/9) ‘The disturbing legacy of Charles Finney’ published online at
Galli, M (2000) ‘Charles Finney: Father of American revivalism’ posted at, 8/08/2008 12:56PM
Johnson JE (1988) ‘Charles Grandison Finney: Father of American Revivalism’ in Christian History, issue 20.

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