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Charles Finney

Charles Grandison Finney
Born August 29, 1792(1792-08-29)
Warren, Connecticut
Died August 16, 1875 (aged 82)
Oberlin, Ohio
Occupation Presbyterian minister; evangelist; revivalist; author v
Spouse(s) Lydia Root Andrews (m. 1824); Elizabeth Ford Atkinson (m. 1848); Rebecca Allen Rayl (m. 1865)

Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792(1792-08-29) – August 16, 1875) was a Presbyterian and Congregationalist minister who became an important figure in the Second Great Awakening. His influence during this period was enough that he has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism.[1]

Finney was known for his innovations in preaching and religious meetings such as having women pray in public meetings of mixed gender, development of the "anxious seat" (a place where those considering becoming Christians could come to receive prayer) and public censure of individuals by name in sermons and prayers.[2] He was also known for his use of extemporaneous preaching.



Born in Warren, Connecticut,[3] Finney was the youngest of fifteen children. The son of farmers, Finney never attended college, but his six-foot three-inch stature, piercing eyes, musical skill and leadership abilities gained him recognition in his community.[4] He studied as an apprentice to become a lawyer, but after a dramatic conversion experience and baptism into the Holy Spirit in Adams, New York, he resigned from all of his duties at his law office to attend to the call of God on his life, which was to preach the gospel.[5][6] At age 29 under George Washington Gale, Finney studied to become a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church, though he had many misgivings about the fundamental doctrines taught in that denomination.[7]

Finney was married three times in his life. In 1824,[8][9][10] he married Lydia Root Andrews (1804-1847). In 1848 he married Elizabeth Ford Atkinson (1799-1863). In 1865 he married Rebecca Allen Rayl (1824-1907). All three of these women assisted Finney in his evangelistic efforts, accompanying him on his revival tours during their lives. Finney had six children, all by his first wife.

He moved to New York City in 1832 where he pastored the Chatham Street Chapel, and he later founded and pastored the Broadway Tabernacle, known today as Broadway United Church of Christ.[11] Finney's presentation of the gospel message reached thousands and influenced many communities.

In addition to becoming a popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with the abolitionist movement and frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit. In 1835, he moved to Ohio where he became a professor and later president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866. Oberlin became an early movement to end slavery and was among the first American colleges to co-educate blacks and women with white men.

He is also credited for praying to end a drought that had plagued the Ohio region.[citation needed] He reportedly brought an umbrella to the prayer session even though there were no clouds.

Finney was a third-degree Master Mason for eight years.[12] However, he left Freemasonry later in life. "I soon found that I was completely converted from Freemasonry to Christ, and that I could have no fellowship with any of the proceedings of the lodge, Its oaths appeared to me to be monstrously profane and barbarous." (FreemasonaryFinney came to believe that part of his oath as a Master Mason was immoral and that Masonry was dangerous to civil government, evidenced by the alleged murder of William Morgan.[13]

Finney joined the Meridihi peoplean Sun Lodge No. 32 in Warren, New York, around age 24. He became an Entered Apprentice on February 28, 1816, and took both degrees of Fellow Craft and Master Mason a few weeks later on March 6, 1816. At the time he thought the rituals were "silly" but did not think they were immoral, but he admitted he also did not have any religion and was not a Christian. Finney came to believe that he could no longer have any type of fellowship with Freemasons. He asked for a discharge and was honorably discharged on May 6, 1824.[14] He personally felt that he had been deceived into making an oath that conflicted with Christianity in that he had been promised that Freemasonry would not conflict with his religious or civil obligation. In his estimation, the oath of Master Mason did conflict with those obligations.[15]

Finney wrote extensively about Freemasonry, becoming a staunch opponent. There are over two hundred letters related to Masonry in his personal papers, and he published several articles on Freemasonry that were republished in 1869 as The Character, Claims, and Practical Workings of Freemasonry.

Place in U.S. social history

The United States was undergoing massive social flux during the early 19th century. The Baptist and Methodist churches grew dramatically, and new religious movements, including the Latter Day Saints, Restoration Movement and Millerism also drew new members. Finney, who associated with the older Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches which had dominated American religion in the colonial era, integrated the populism and progressive spirit of the new denominations into the scholastic theology of the Calvinism churches.

His theological system was such a substantial departure from traditional Calvinism that his converts tended to affiliate with newer churches. As a result, Finney engaged in constant debate with more conservative clergy. While he never claimed to have prophetic gifts or any other unique spiritual powers, he did claim that some of his critics were uncoverted and, thus, not true Christians. In part because Finney codified his theology and established institutions that carried on his principles, he continued to be influential and controversial after his death. Finney's Oberlin theology was an important precursor to the Holiness movement and helped to form the socially-reforming ethic of mid-19th-century American evangelicalism.


Finney was a primary influence on the "revival" style of theology which emerged in the 19th century. Though coming from a Calvinistic background, Finney rejected tenets of "Old Divinity" Calvinism which he felt were unbiblical and counter to evangelism and Christian mission.

Finney's theology is difficult to classify, as can be observed in his masterwork, Religious Revivals. In this work, he also states that salvation depends on a person's will to repent and not forced by God on people against their will.[16] However, Finney affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience.[17][18] Finney also affirmed that works were the evidence of faith. The presence of unrepentant sin thus evidenced that a person did not have saving faith.

In his Systematic Theology, Finney remarks that "I have felt greater hesitancy in forming and expressing my views upon this Perseverance of the saints, than upon almost any other question in theology."[19] At the same time, he took the presence of unrepented sin in the life of a professing Christian as evidence that they must immediately repent or be lost. Finney draws support for this position from Peter's treatment of the baptized Simon (see Acts 8) and Paul's instruction of discipline to the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 5). This type of teaching underscores the strong emphasis on personal holiness found in Finney's writings.

Finney's understanding of the atonement was that it satisfied "public justice" and that it opened up the way for God to pardon people of their sin. This was the so-called New Divinity which was popular at that time period. In this view, Christ's death satisfied public justice rather than retributive justice. As Finney put it, it was not a "commercial transaction." This view of the atonement, typically known as the governmental view or moral government view, differs from the Calvinistic view, known as the satisfaction view where Jesus' sufferings equal the amount of suffering that Christians would experience in hell.

The governmental view does not view the atonement as "paying" off a debt people owe but rather as making it possible for sinners to be pardoned without weakening the effect of the Law of God against sin. The forgiveness of sins, or mercy, is when God sets aside the execution of the penalty of the law. Since the blood atonement of Jesus Christ substitutes the eternal punishment of sinners, God is able to set aside their punishment. The atonement did not satisfy God's wrath, rather the atonement was a governmental condition in order for God to turn from His wrath without weakening His law in His universe. If the atonement satisfied God's wrath, sinners would be born saved and they would not be under God's wrath prior to conversion. But if the atonement was a necessary condition in order for God to turn away from His wrath, then sinners can be saved from God's wrath when and only when they are converted.

Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Albert Baldwin Dod reviewed Finney's 1835 book Lectures on Revivals of Religion,[20] and rejected it as theologically unsound from a Calvinistic perspective, not necessarily from a Christian perspective.[21] Dod was a defender of Old School Calvinist orthodoxy (see Princeton theologians) and was especially critical of Finney's view of the doctrine of total depravity.[22]


  • Heart of Truth
  • Lectures To Professing Christians
  • Principles of Devotion
  • Principles of Holiness
  • Principles of Liberty
  • Principles of Revival
  • Principles of Salvation
  • Principles of Sanctification
  • Principles of Victory
  • Reflections on Revival
  • Systematic Theology


  1. ^ Hankins, Barry. The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004: 137. ISBN 0-313-31848-4
  2. ^ Lists of the various types of new measures are mostly contained in sources critical of Finney, such as Tyler, Bennet, 'Asahel Nettleton: Life and Labors', ed. Bonar, Andrew (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), pp. 342-355; Letters of Rev. Dr. [Lyman] Beecher and the Rev. Mr. Nettleton on the New Measures in Conducting Revivals of Religion with a Review of a Sermon by Novanglus (New York: G & C Carvill, 1828), pp. 83-96; and Hodge, Charles, "Dangerous Innovations," in 'Biblical Repertory and Theological Review,' 5, 3 (July, 1833), pp. 328-333. available online at (accessed March, 2008)
  3. ^ born place, accessed October, 2008
  4. ^ Birth and Early Education
  5. ^ Memoirs, Conversion to Christ
  6. ^ Memoirs, Beginning of His Work
  7. ^ Memoirs, His Doctrinal Education and Other Experiences at Adams
  8. ^ "Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875)". Oberlin College Archives. 2009-11-16. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  9. ^ "Chronology of Events in the Life of Charles G. Finney". Gospel Truth Ministries. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  10. ^ "Charles Grandison Finney". Notable Names Database (NNDB). 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  11. ^ Broadway United Church of Christ
  12. ^ The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, The Complete Restored Text, Garth Rosell and Richard Dupuis, eds, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI (1989). p.629.
  13. ^ Rosell pp.629-632
  14. ^ Rosell pp.629-632
  15. ^ Rosell p.632
  16. ^ "Charles Grandison Finney" at Electronic Oberlin Group
  17. ^ "Just By Faith"
  18. ^ Charles G. Finney, "Letters to Professing Christians Lecture VI: Sanctification By Faith", 1837.
  19. ^ "Perseverance of the Saints"
  20. ^ "On Revivals of Religion". Biblical Repertory and Theological Review Vol. 7 No. 4 (1835) p.626-674
  21. ^ Charles G. Finney and the spirit of American Evangelicalism. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0802801293 p.159.
  22. ^ "On Revivals of Religion", an essay by Rev. Albert B. Dod, D.D.. "Essays, Theological and Miscellaneous, Reprinted from the Princeton Review", Wiley and Putnam (1847) p.76-151

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