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Charles Finney: The Father of American Revivalism

Charles Finney was a lawyer-turned-preacher who led the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century. He was a powerful orator, a controversial theologian, and a social reformer. He preached to thousands of people in America and abroad, and sparked revivals that transformed communities and churches. He also advocated for causes such as abolitionism, temperance, education, and women’s rights.


In this article, we will explore his biography, ministry, and quotes.


Introduction

Charles Finney was born on August 29, 1792, in Warren, Connecticut. He was the youngest of fifteen children in a farming family. He grew up in a religious but not very pious environment. He had little formal education and learned to read and write on his own. He also developed a keen interest in law and politics.

He moved to New York in 1812 and worked as a school teacher and a lawyer. He was not a Christian and had a skeptical attitude toward religion. He was influenced by the rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment era. He once said that he did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God any more than he was.


He had his first encounter with Christianity when he attended a Presbyterian church in Adams, New York, in 1816. He was impressed by the preaching of George Gale, the pastor of the church, who challenged him to study the Bible and to seek God. He began to read the Scriptures and to pray earnestly for salvation. He experienced a radical conversion on October 10, 1821, at the age of 29. He felt the Holy Spirit descend upon him with power and fill him with joy and peace. He later described it as “a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost”. He said that he felt like he “met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face”.


Charles Finney

He felt called by God to preach the gospel and to leave his law career. He was licensed as a minister by the Presbytery of St. Lawrence in 1824 and ordained by the Presbytery of Oneida in 1834. He began his ministry as an evangelist and a revivalist, traveling from town to town and preaching in churches, schools, halls, tents, fields, and forests. He became one of the most influential and controversial preachers of his time. He preached with passion, logic, persuasion, and emotion. He appealed to both the intellect and the will of his hearers. He challenged them to repent of their sins and to surrender their lives to Christ. He also taught them how to live holy and fruitful lives as Christians.


He led the Second Great Awakening, a revival movement that swept across America in the early 19th century. He preached to thousands of people in New York, New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states. He also traveled to England and Scotland and preached there as well. He sparked revivals that resulted in conversions, church growth, social reform, and cultural change.

He was also a theologian, an educator, and a writer. He developed his own system of theology, known as Finneyism or New School Theology, which emphasized human free will, moral government, and sanctification. He founded Oberlin College in Ohio, where he served as a professor and later as a president. He wrote several books and articles that expounded his views and experiences. He also advocated for causes such as abolitionism, temperance, education, and women’s rights.


He died on August 16, 1875, at the age of 82. He was buried in Oberlin. His legacy lives on through his books, his quotes, and his impact on American Christianity.


The Ministry of Charles Finney

The ministry of Charles Finney can be characterized by four main features:

  • Revival: Charles Finney believed that revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. He believed that revival is not a miracle or a sovereign act of God, but a result of human cooperation and effort. He believed that revival can be planned and promoted by using appropriate means and measures. He used various methods to create interest and excitement among people, such as advertising, publicity, music, testimonies, inquiry meetings, and altar calls. He also used various techniques to persuade people to make decisions for Christ, such as anecdotes, illustrations, questions, appeals, warnings, promises, and invitations.

  • Reformation: Charles Finney believed that revival should lead to reformation of both individuals and society. He believed that Christians should not only be saved from sin, but also be sanctified by grace. He believed that Christians should not only experience emotional joy, but also exhibit moral fruit. He believed that Christians should not only be concerned about their own souls, but also about their neighbors’ welfare. He believed that Christians should not only be loyal to their church, but also be active in their community. He believed that Christians should not only pray for God’s kingdom, but also work for its advancement.

  • Rationalism: Charles Finney believed that rationalism is a tool to communicate and defend the gospel. He believed that reason is a gift from God that enables us to understand His truth and His will. He believed that logic is a skill that helps us to present His message and His claims. He believed that persuasion is an art that allows us to influence others’ minds and hearts. He used rational arguments to prove the existence of God, the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the necessity of salvation, the reality of hell, the possibility of heaven, and other doctrines.

  • Radicalism: Charles Finney believed that radicalism is a trait that distinguishes true Christians from nominal ones. He believed that Christians should be radical in their faith, in their love, in their holiness, in their service, in their witness, and in their sacrifice. He believed that Christians should be willing to go against the tide of popular opinion, of worldly fashion, of religious tradition, and of sinful temptation. He believed that Christians should be ready to face opposition, persecution, criticism, rejection, and even death for Christ’s sake.

Quotes by Charles Finney

Here are some quotes by Charles Finney that capture his message and spirit:

  • “A revival is nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God.”

  • “The time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them.”

  • “Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Nothing else can cost so much.”

  • “There can be no higher enjoyment found in this world than is found in pulling souls out of the fire and bringing them to Christ.”

  • “A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”

  • “The Church must take right ground in regard to politics… Politics are a part of religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as part of their duty to God.”

  • “Ministers often preach about the Gospel instead of preaching the Gospel.”

  • “You hear the word, and believe it in theory, while you deny it in practice.”

  • “A revival is nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God.”

  • “Righteousness is sustained in the human soul by the indwelling of Christ through faith and in no other way.”



FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about Charles Finney:

When did Charles Finney die?

Charles Finney died on August 16,1875, at the age of 82.

How did Charles Finney die?

Charles Finney died from natural causes at his home in Oberlin, Ohio.

Who was Charles Finney married to?

Charles Finney was married twice: first to Lydia Root Andrews, from 1824 until her death in 1847;

then to Elizabeth Ford Atkinson, from 1848 until her death in 1863.

How many books did Charles Finney write?

Charles Finney wrote over 20 books on various topics related to his ministry, such as Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Systematic Theology, Memoirs, Sermons, and Autobiography.

What denomination was Charles Finney?

Charles Finney did not belong to any specific denomination; he considered himself as an independent Christian.


Conclusion

Charles Finney was a lawyer-turned-preacher who led the Second Great Awakening

in the 19th century. He was a powerful orator, a controversial theologian, and a social reformer.

He preached to thousands of people in America and abroad, and sparked revivals that transformed communities and churches.


He also advocated for causes such as abolitionism, temperance, education, and women’s rights.

His ministry was marked by revival, reformation, rationalism, and radicalism. He preached with passion, logic, persuasion, and emotion. He challenged people to repent of their sins and to surrender their lives to Christ. He also taught them how to live holy and fruitful lives

as Christians.


What did you learn? How can you apply what you have learnt into your own life?


You can also check out the Revival School, an Online Christian School that offers free programs.


Let me know in the comments below!

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