Biography of Charles G Finney

Charles Grandison Finney
Born : August 29, 1792 Warren, Connecticut, U.S.
Died : August 16, 1875 (aged 82) , Oberlin, Ohio, U.S.
Profession : Presbyterian minister; evangelist; revivalist;author
2nd President of Oberlin College
In office : 1851 – 1866
Preceded by : Asa Mahan
Succeeded by : James Fairchild

Together with several other evangelical leaders, his religious views led him to promote social reforms, such as abolition of slavery and equal education for women and African Americans. From 1835 he taught at Oberlin College of Ohio, which accepted all genders and races. He served as its second president from 1851 to 1866, during which its faculty and students were activists for abolition, the Underground Railroad, and universal education.
Early life
Born in Warren, Connecticut, in 1792, Finney was the youngest of nine
children. The son of farmers who moved to the upstate frontier of Jefferson County, New York after the American Revolutionary War, Finney never attended college. His leadership abilities, musical skill, six-foot three-inch stature, and piercing eyes gained him recognition in his community. He
and his family attended the Baptist church in Henderson, New York, where
the preacher led emotional, revival-style meetings. Both the Baptists and
Methodists displayed fervor through the early nineteenth century. He “read
the law”, studying as an apprentice to become a lawyer, but after a dramatic
conversion experience and baptism into the Holy Spirit in Adams, he gave
up legal practice to preach the gospel. In 1821, Finney started studies at age
29 under George Washington Gale, to become a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church. He had many misgivings about the fundamental
doctrines taught in that denomination. He moved to New York City in 1832, where he was minister of the Chatham Street Chapel and introduced some of the revivalist fervor of upstate to his urban congregations. He later founded and preached at the Broadway Tabernacle. In 1835, he became the pastor of systematic theology at the newly formed Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.
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 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.
Antislavery work and Oberlin College presidency In addition to becoming a popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with social reforms, particularly the abolitionist movement.
The movement was strongly supported by the Northern and Midwestern
Baptists and Methodists with Finney frequently denouncing slavery from the
pulpit. In 1835, he moved to the free state of Ohio, where he became a professor at Oberlin College. After more than a decade, he was selected as its second president, serving from 1851 to 1866. (He had already served as acting President in 1849.) Oberlin was the first American college to accept women and blacks as students in addition to white men. From its early years, its faculty and students were active in the abolitionist movement.
They participated together with people of the town in biracial efforts to help
fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, as well as to resist the Fugitive Slave Act. Many slaves escaped to Ohio across the Ohio River from Kentucky, making the state a critical area for their passage to freedom.
Personal life
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’s great-grandson, also named Charles Grandison Finney, became a famous author.
As a young man Finney was a third- degree Master Mason, but after his
conversion, he dropped the group as antithetical to Christianity. He wasactive in Anti-Masonic movements. Finney was a primary influence on the “revival” style of evangelism 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. In his masterwork, Religious Revivals, he emphasizes the involvement of a person’s will in salvation. He did not make clear whether he believed the will was free to repent or not repent, or whether he viewed God as inclining the will irresistibly. (The latter is part of Calvinist doctrine, in which the will of an elect individual is changed by God so that he or she desires to repent, thus repenting with his or her will and not against it, but the individual is not free in whether to choose repentance as the choice must be what the will is inclined toward.) Finney, like most Protestants, affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience. Finney affirmed that works were the evidence of faith. Acts of unrepentant sin were signs that a person had not received salvation. Writing in his Systematic Theology, Finney states: “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.” Quoting Finney: “The impression of many seems to be, that grace will pardon what it cannot prevent; in other words, that if the grace of the Gospel fails to save people from the commission of sin in this life; it will nevertheless pardon them and save them in sin, if it cannot save them from sin. Now, really, I understand the
Gospel as teaching that men are saved from sin first, and as a consequence,
from hell; and not that they are saved from hell while they are not saved from
sin. Christ sanctifies when he saves. And this is the very first element or idea of salvation, saving from sin. ‘Thou shall call his name Jesus,” said the
angel, ‘for he shall save his people from their sins.’ ‘Having raised up his Son
Jesus,’ says the apostle, ‘he hath sent him to bless you in turning every one of
you from his iniquities.’ Let no one expect to saved from hell, unless the
grace of the Gospel saves him first from sin.’ ” –Charles Finney.
Finney’s understanding of substitutionary atonement was that it satisfied “public justice” and that it opened the way for God to pardon people of their sins. This was part of the theology of 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 wrote, it was not a “commercial transaction.” This view of the atonement is typically known as the governmental view or government view. Benjamin Warfield, a Calvinist
professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary claimed that
“God might be eliminated from it [Finney’s theology] entirely without
essentially changing its character.” Albert Baldwin Dod, a colleague of
Warfield’s and another “Old School” Presbyterian, reviewed Finney’s 1835
book Lectures on Revivals of Religion. He rejected it as theologically unsound. Dod was a defender of Old School Calvinist orthodoxy (see Princeton Theology) and was especially critical of Finney’s view of the doctrine of total depravity. Old School Princeton Theologians as Dod prosecuted even “Conservative” evangelicals as Lyman Beecher who was twice acquitted by the general First Presbyterian synod. In popular culture In Charles W. Chesnutt’s short story . The Passing of Grandison” (1899),published in the collection The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color
Line, the enslaved hero is named “Grandison”, likely an allusion to the
well-known abolitionist.
1. Hankins, Barry (2004), The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, p. 137, ISBN 0-313-
2. Charles Grandison Finney-born place , Ohio History Central, retrieved
October 2008 Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
3. “I. Birth and Early Education”, Memoirs of Charles G. Finney , Gospel
truth, 1868.
4. Perciaccante, Marianne (2005), Calling Down Fire: Charles Grandison
Finney and Revivalism in Jefferson County, New York, 1800–1841, pp. 2–4.
5. “III. Beginning of His Work”, Memoirs , Gospel truth, 1868.
6. “III. Beginning of His Work”, Memoirs , Gospel truth, 1868.
7. “IV. His Doctrinal Education and Other Experiences at Adams”, Memoirs ,
Gospel truth, 1868.
8. Hyatt, Eddie (2002), 2000 Years Of Charismatic Christianity, Lake Mary, FL:
Charisma House, p. 126, ISBN 978-0- 88419-872-7.
9. William, Cossen. “Charle’s Finney’s Rochester Revival” . Retrieved 27 March
10. Hyatt, 126
11. The various types of new measures are identified mostly by sources critical
of Finney, such as Bennet, Tyler (1996), Bonar, Andrew, ed., Asahel Nettleton:
Life and Labors, Edinburgh: Banner oTruth Trust, pp. 342–55; 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 (July 1833), “Dangerous
Innovations”, Biblical Repertory and Theological Review , 5 (3), University of
Michigan, pp. 328–33, retrieved March 2008 Check date values in: |access-
date= (help).
12. “Presidents of Oberlin College” . Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin
College. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October
13. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American
Evangelicalism (1996) p 199
14. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American
Evangelicalism (1996), p. 112
15. “Charles Grandison Finney” , Electronic Oberlin Group, Oberlin
16. “JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH by Charles G. Finney” .
17. Charles G. Finney, “Letters to Professing Christians Lecture VI:
Sanctification By Faith” , 1837.
18. “Finney’s Systematic Theology—1851 Edition–Lecture LXXIX” .
19. “An OnLine site for the Complete WORKS of CHARLES G. FINNEY” .
20. B. B. Warfield, Perfectionism (2 vols.; New York: Oxford, 1931) 2. 193.
21. Old School–New SchoolControversy
22. “On Revivals of Religion” Archived July 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
Biblical Repertory and Theological Review Vol. 7 No. 4 (1835) p.626-674
23. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American
Evangelicalism , William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 0-
8028-0129-3, p.159
24. Rev. Albert B. Dod, D.D., “On Revivals of Religion” , in Essays, Theological and
Miscellaneous, Reprinted from the Princeton Review, Wiley and Putnam
(1847) pp.76-151
25. Lyman Beecher
26. Cutter, Martha J. “Passing as Narrative and Textual Strategy in
Charles Chesnutt’s ‘The Passing of Grandison'”, Passing in the Works of
Charles W. Chesnutt, Eds. Wright, Susan Prothro, and Ernestine Pickens Glass.
Jackson, MS: Mississippi UP, 2010, p.
43. ISBN 978-1-60473-416-4.
Essig, James David. “The Lord’s Free Man: Charles G. Finney and His
Abolitionism,” Civil War History, March 1978, Vol. 24 Issue 1, pp 25–
45 Guelzo, Allen C. “An heir or a rebel? Charles Grandison Finney and the
New England theology,” Journal of the Early Republic, Spring 1997, Vol.
17 Issue 1, pp 60–94 Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (1996), a major scholarly biography
Hardman, Keith J. Charles Grandison Finney, 1792-1875: Revivalist and
Reformer (1987), a major scholarly biography Johnson, James E. “Charles G.
Finney and a Theology of Revivalism,” Church History, September 1969, Vol. 38 Issue 3, pp
338–358 in JST
A biography of Charles Finney by G.Frederick Wright (Holiness perspective; supportive)
A Vindication of the Methods and Results of Charles Finney’s Ministry
(Revivalist perspective; supportive; answers many traditional Old School
Calvinist critiques)
Charles Grandison Finney: New York Revivalism in the 1820-1830s by
John H. Martin, Crooked Lake Review Articles on Finney (conservative
Calvinist perspective; critical) How Charles Finney’s Theology Ravaged the Evangelical Movement (conservative Calvinist perspective; critical)
“The Legacy of Charles Finney” by Dr. Michael S. Horton (conservative
perspective; critical)
The Oberlin Heritage Center -Local history museum and historical
society of Oberlin, OH, where Finney
lived and worked for decades. Finney’s Lectures on Theology by Charles Hodge (conservative Calvinist perspective; critical) The Church in Crisis A critical look at Finney’s revivalist methods and their impact on the modern church in America
“Oberlin Theology”. Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
Retrieved from

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Glenn Auvil

    Studied Finney for years. Even visited his church in OBerlin. I’ve read his autobiography but what’s available is rather abridged, saw a copy of the unabridged decades ago! Something like over 600 pages in tiny print! The part I’m looking for, what you never see depth on, is is Dark, crisis year when first wife Lydia passed. No doubt it speaks volumes to this generation about God’s dealings, & Finneys character! Would love to know much as possible!

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