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AN INTRODUCTION TO CHARLES G. FINNEY
Compiled By: Robert Wurtz II
FROM BIRTH THROUGH CHILDHOOD
In the times of declension that have seized upon our nations throughout the centuries, God has always had a voice to raise up and call the people back to fear and love their God. When the fires of passion for God die out and the candlestick of their anointing is near to be removed- God will start a fire. Not just any fire, but one burning with a holy zeal crying out, May I burn up for thee! Charles Grandison Finney was one such person. The fires of the Great Awakening lighted by the likes of Jonathon Edwards, John Whitfield, and John Wesley were dying down to a smoldering ember. The years of bygone revivals were loosing their foothold and becoming a memory. As these men would eventually go on to meet their Lord- God had His next yielded servant waiting in the wings.
Roughly a year had passed since the death of John Wesley, and on August 29, 1972 Charles G. Finney was born in Warren, Connecticut as a descendant of the New England Puritans. When he was about two years old, his father moved the family to Oneida County, New York. Neither of his parents was religious, and among his neighbors there were very few religious people. He seldom heard a sermon, unless it was an occasional one from some traveling minister who was ill equipped to reach the hearts of such a cold people. There were very few Christian books he could glean from.
Bro. Finney told in his biography of the terrible ways in which sermons were delivered by the traveling preachers when he was a child. The people would often go home and laugh at what was said. But I doubt that anyone ever went out of Bro. Finneys meeting laughing. When the people have so lost faith in the ministers of the day that they could laugh them to scorn- its time for REVIVAL!
THE YEARS OF LEARNING
Just when a meetinghouse was built in Bro. Finneys neighborhood and a pastor brought in his father moved again. This time, to the wilderness skirting the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Here he lived for several years with no more exposure to Christianity than he had experienced in Oneida County. When he was about twenty years old he traveled to New Jersey near New York City, where he worked as a teacher. Charles Finney was primarily self-taught. He returned to New England twice to attend high school. Bro. Finney had a tutor that was a graduate from Yale University. He wanted to attend Yale also, but the tutor advised him that it would be a waste of time and that he could study on his own and complete their curriculum in two years as opposed to four at the University. As a result he ceased to pursue his education any further at that time. Charles Finney would later study Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but in his own words, was never a classical scholar.
The tutor wanted him to help run an academy in one of the Southern States. He was about to accept his offer, but when he informed his parents, whom he had not seen for four years; they both immediately came after him and convinced me to go home with them to Jefferson County, New York. Thus he became a student in the law office of Squire W in Adams, Jefferson County. This was in 1818. Charles Finney was roughly 26 years old.
THE SEARCHING YEARS
At this time Bro. Finney began the study of law in the office of Squire Wright, of Adams, near his old home in Western New York. At Adams, while studying law, he attended the Presbyterian Church. In his own words he said he knew about as much about Christianity as the heathen. The pastor, George W. Gale, was an able and highly educated man. His preaching gained the attention of Finney, although to his keen and logical mind it seemed like a mass of absurdities and contradictions. It was while studying law and attending church at Adams that Finney became interested in Bible study. He found many references to the Scriptures in his law books, so he decided to buy himself a Bible and began a personal study of it. He had many conversations with Pastor George Gale, but they could rarely agree on any point of doctrine. In his autobiography Bro. Finney writes, Pastor Gale was thoroughly Calvinistic, and whenever he came out with doctrine, which he seldom did, he would preach what has been called hyper-Calvinism. He was, of course, regarded as highly orthodox; but I didn't get much out of his preaching. As I sometimes told him, he seemed to begin in the middle, and to assume many things that I thought needed to be proved. He seemed to take it for granted that his hearers were theologians, and to assume they understood all the great and fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. I must say that I was more perplexed than helped by his preaching.
There was something that Charles Finney noticed about the people at church; there prayers we never answered. Until this time he had never lived where he could attend a prayer meeting. He would go to the prayer meetings and listen to the prayers. When the prayers seemed not to be answered he was troubled and it made a bad impression of Christianity upon him at the time. Painfully honest at times, he was once asked by them if they could pray for him. He did not allow them because he did not see that their prayers were answered. He declared, 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.
But in spite of all these things, he became more and more concerned about his own soul. He felt that if there was a life beyond the grave he was not prepared for it. He continues in his autobiography, But as I read my Bible and attended the prayer meetings, heard Mr. Gale preach, and spoke with him and others, I became very restless. I became convinced that I was in no state to go to heaven if I died. It seemed to me that there must be something in religion that was of infinite importance; and I decided that if the soul was immortal I needed a great change inside me to make it into heaven. But still my mind was not made up as to whether Christianity was true or not. However, the question was too important to leave alone. I was particularly struck with the fact that the prayers I had listened to from week to week were not being answered, that I could see. When I read my Bible I learned what Christ had said about prayer, and answers to prayer: "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you." I also read what Christ said - that God is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children. I heard them pray continually for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then confess that they did not receive what they asked for.
THE DAY OF SALVATION
On a Sunday evening in autumn 1821 Charles Finney made up his mind that he would settle the question of his soul's salvation. He began to focus entirely upon it. He had consistently attended local prayer meetings and continued going to church while in Adams. Finney was always concerned that people would know he was searching for salvation. When he prayed he would at times whisper his prayers lest anyone hear them. In his own words, Charles Finney confessed that he had been ashamed to be seen or reading his bible before his true conversion. Finally after some number of days he conviction overtook him and he snuck off to the woods to seek the Lord, looking over his shoulder as he went for fear someone was following him. The night before he feared slipping into hell if at once he could likely die. He found a place to pray outside of town in the middle of some fallen trees. Charles Finney describes the scene in his own words, I ducked in there and knelt down to pray. As I had turned to go up into the woods, I remember saying, "I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there." I repeated this on the way up: "I will give my heart to God before I ever come down again. But when I attempted to pray I found that my heart would not pray. I had assumed that if I could only find a place where I could speak aloud, without being overheard, I could pray freely. But when I came to try, I was dumb; that is, I had nothing to say to God. I could only say a few words, and those without heart. In attempting to pray I would hear a rustling in the leaves, and would stop and look up to see if somebody was coming. I did this several times. Finally I found myself verging on despair. I said to myself, "I cannot pray. My heart is dead to God and will not pray." I was kicking myself for having promised to give my heart to God before I left the woods. When I came to try, I found I could not give my heart to God. My inward soul hung back, and there was no going out of my heart to God. I began to feel that it was too late; that God must have given me up and I was past hope.
Charles Finney had a revelation of his pride when he noticed himself always looking to see who might be watching him. Finally at the top of his voice he said, I would not leave this place if all the men on earth and all the devils in hell surrounded me. He continued, "What!" I said, "such a degraded sinner as me, on my knees confessing my sins to a holy God; and ashamed to have any human being find me on my knees before Him!" The sin appeared awful, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord.
Then the scripture came to mind: "You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart." He instantly took hold of this passage and trusted Christ. He had intellectually believed the Bible before, but now he was genuinely saved. He continues, I was suddenly conscious of trusting at that moment in God's trustworthiness. Somehow I knew that that was a passage of Scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew that it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me. I cried to Him, "Lord, I take you at your word. You know that I am searching for you with all my heart, and that I have come here to pray to you; and you have promised to hear me."
I WILL PREACH THE GOSPEL
Charles Finney had prayed with such earnestness that he did not realize that he was already heading out of the woods. The thought that he was actually transformed did not occur to him, he simply said to himself, "If I am ever converted, I will preach the Gospel."
He would soon reach the road that led to the village, and began thinking about what had just happened. He noticed that the mind and heart that were just tormented with feelings of conviction were quiet and peaceful. He said to himself, "What is this? I must have grieved the Holy Spirit entirely away. I have lost all my conviction. I don't have one bit of concern about my soul; The Spirit must have left me." He continued, It seemed like I had never been so unconcerned about my own salvation in my life. Then I remembered what I had said to God while I was on my knees - that I would take Him at his word. In fact I remembered a whole lot of things that I had said, and concluded that it was no wonder the Spirit had left me. For such a sinner to take hold of God's Word in that way must surely be presumption if not blasphemy. I concluded that in my excitement I had grieved the Holy Spirit, and perhaps committed the unpardonable sin.
G. Frederick Wright in his biography of Charles Finney sums up the first hours of his conversion. He writes, On returning to the town, he found that the whole forenoon had passed away. But he had no appetite for dinner, and, instead of going to his boarding-house, went to his office, where in the quiet of the noontide hour he took down his bass viol, and began to play and sing some of the hymns with which in his impenitence he had so often led the worship of the congregation. Every note brought tears to his eyes. And, after making several ineffectual attempts to suppress his feelings, he put aside his music, and devoted himself during the afternoon to readjusting the books and furniture of the office, having little conversation with any of the various persons who came in.
As we read the final accounts of Finneys conversion we are left to ask ourselves if we can recall the hour we first believed> Charles Finney never forgot the great details of his conversion and spoke of them as an old man as though they had happened the day before.
Finney spoke of the glorious baptism in the Holy Spirit. Frederick continues, It was an experience he was not looking for, and of which he did not remember ever to have heard before. It seemed to him as if there was a positive force like electricity entering and penetrating his whole system. He "wept aloud with joy and love," and, to use his own words, "literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings" of his heart. So overwhelming were these waves of feeling, that he cried out, "Lord, I cannot bear any more; I shall die if these continue." The joy that Finney felt did not leave, but was fresh in the morning. And so characterized the life of the man who would become one of the great preachers of all times. In America, Charles Finney is considered the father of modern revivalism with over 500,000 conversions resulting from his ministry. Historians claim that in many ways, Finney laid a well-paved road for mass evangelists who would come after himDwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham. No doubt his influence on America was profound. He got men thinking about morals and ethics again. He stood against slavery and other issues in his day. He caused Christians to realize that if they were to be legitimate Christians they needed to live right. He had his share of enemies and problems. He suffered the loss of two daughters and was well acquainted with many physical sufferings. His revivals and theologies have made a profound effect on our lives today and we call learn even more still as we read his works and seek the God He met and served all the remaining days of his life.
1 CHARLES G. FINNEY A Brief Biography J. Gilchrist Lawson, Evangelist
Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians. 1911
2 Charles Finney revival The Essential Revivals In His Own Words. Edited by A. Strom
3 A BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES GRANDISON FINNEY. G. FREDERICK WRIGHT, D.D., LL.D. 1891
4 A Mighty Winner of Souls CHARLES G. FINNEY A STUDY IN EVANGELISM written by
FRANK GRENVILLE BEARDSLEY, Ph.D., S.T.D. Author of History of American Revivals, etc.
C. 1937 AMERICAN TRACT SOCIETY