Charles Grandison Finney

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Charles G. Finney

Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792 – August 16, 1875) was a Presbyterian 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 his calling to preach the gospel.[5][6] At the age of 29 under George Washington Gale, Finney studied to become and eventually became a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church, though he then had and would continue to have many misgivings about the fundamental doctrines taught in that denomination.[7]

Finney was married in October of 1824. He moved to New York City in 1832 where he pastored the Chatham Street Chapel, and later founded and pastored the Broadway Tabernacle, known today as Broadway United Church of Christ.[8] Finney's presentation of his 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 would become a professor and later president of Oberlin College (from 1851 – 1866). Oberlin was fertile ground for the early movement to end slavery and was among the first American colleges to coeducate 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 wasn't a cloud in the sky.


Prior to his conversion, he had been a Freemason, but became a staunch opponent of Masonry, and wrote an extensive book attacking it, entitled The Character, Claims, and Practical Workings of Freemasonry.

Finney was a third degree Master Mason in Freemasonry for eight years,[9] although he left Masonry later in life. Finney 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.[10]

Finney joined the Meridihi peoplean Sun Lodge No. 32 in Warren, New York around the age of 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 around the age of 32,[11] although his conversion experience had come several years earlier around the age of 29. 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.[12]

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

Place in U.S. social history

As a new nation the United States was undergoing massive social flux during the 19th century, and this period birthed quite a large number of religious movements, such as Mormonism (1830), Millerism (1830's and beyond), and the offshoots of Millerism--Jehovah's Witnesses (1878) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1863). The nation's westward expansion brought about untold opportunities and a readiness to dispense with old ways of thinking, an attitude that influenced people's religious understanding.

Finney was the most famous religious revivalist during this period in this particular area. While groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh-day Adventists became closed and exclusivist, Finney was widely accepted and influential amongst more mainstream groups. Finney never started his own denomination or church and never claimed any form of prophetic leadership above other evangelists and revivalists.[13]

More flexible Christian denominations, such as the Baptists and Methodists, were able to draw many of Finney's alleged converts into their churches, while more established denominations, such as the Presbyterians, were more resistant. Finney's theology and style were special targets of criticism by Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921).


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.[14] However, Finney affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience.[15][16] 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."[17] 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 doesn't see 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.



  • 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. ^ Broadway United Church of Christ
  9. ^ The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, The Complete Restored Text, Garth Rosell and Richard Dupuis, eds, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI (1989). Page 629.
  10. ^ Id. at 629-32
  11. ^ Id. at 629-32.
  12. ^ Id. at 632.
  13. ^ Finney did not hesitate, however, to criticize many other clergymen that disagreed with him and who sometimes he claimed to be unconverted.
  14. ^ "Charles Grandison Finney" at Electronic Oberlin Group
  15. ^ "Just By Faith"
  16. ^ Charles G. Finney, "Letters to Professing Christians Lecture VI: Sanctification By Faith", 1837 []
  17. ^ "Perseverance of the Saints"

External links

Faith (for Content):