Charles Finney

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Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), lawyer, Presbyterian clergyman, theologian and revivalist, was born in Warren, Connecticut. Upon his dramatic conversion in 1821 Finney left his legal career, famously proclaiming to one of his clients that he had been given “a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause, and I cannot plead yours.” He subsequently pursued a theological education before being ordained in 1824 by the St. Lawrence Presbytery. During his time as a missionary to settlers of upstate New York, a series of revivals broke out under his preaching and spread to the surrounding areas. He subsequently preached in several major cities along the east coast before embarking on two lengthy tours of Great Britain. Finney’s sermons were injected with the New Haven Theology of Nathanial Taylor and he developed and employed new revival techniques known as “new measures.” These techniques, such as holding protracted meetings for penitent sinners, supplying listeners with an anxious seat and allowing women to pray in public, drew fire from Old School Presbyterians who believed he placed too much emphasis on human effort in the act of conversion. While upholding the priority of evangelism, Finney believed strongly in social reform, and his evangelism was often linked with the abolitionist and temperance movements. Finney held several pastorates in New York before accepting an appointment as professor of theology at Oberlin Collegiate Institute, now Oberlin College, between 1851 and 1866. With his powerful extemporaneous preaching and New School Calvinism, Finney emerged as a leader in evangelical revivalism and was a major contributor to the Second Great Awakening.

For further reading see Charles Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1996). 

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