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Charles Finney: A Nation’s Character Redefined

By Richard Klein
The 700 Club - - Of the many brave, but often forgotten, preachers who traversed the wilds of America’s brave new world, none had a deeper impact than the mighty revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. In an era of great leaders, both secular and religious, Charles Finney created a legacy that redefined the very character of the new nation.

A brilliant and gifted young man, Charles Finney demonstrated at an early age the potential for great achievement in any field. He chose law and was soon established in the upstate New York hamlet of Adams.A physically active sort, Finney loved to stroll the wooded area just outside the village. He often spent time pondering the many quotations of Scripture he had found while examining judgments and legal codes of his day. He had recently begun reading the Bible daily to augment his study of law. To his surprise, Finney found that Bible reading had instead triggered serious questions about his own eternal destiny. This struggle over his fate came to a head early one October morning as a verse of Scripture kept running through Finney’s mind:

"Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."

The Presence of God

Suddenly, it seemed as if Charles Finney was in the very presence of God. Listen to his words:"It seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face…I fell down at His feet and poured out my soul to Him…Without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul…No words can ever express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart."Charles Finney abandoned his law practice to enter the ministry and was soon licensed to preach. Rather than taking up residence in a local church, however, he found himself drawn to itinerate evangelism, among westward-moving, pioneer families.

Finney was quite the pioneer himself when it came to preaching. Instead of reading from a prepared text, he spoke extemporaneously from his heart. He allowed women to lead prayer and publicly called sinners to repent --- by name, from the pulpit! His many innovations were called "New Measures" and seemed to appall orthodox clergy. But his methods worked!

Charles Finney

Nine Mighty Years

A series of revivals began to sweep the Northeast in what came to be known as Finney’s "Nine Mighty Years" of evangelism. Like a wildfire, it spread: Evans Mill, Antwerp, Rome, Utica, Auburn, Troy, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.But the revival that eclipsed all others took place in the city of Rochester in the year 1830. And it all began with one simple encounter.The wife of a prominent Rochester attorney had invited Finney to her home, hoping to learn more about this preacher who was becoming quite famous. Secretly, she worried that revival, which seemed to follow Finney everywhere, would ruin the coming social season. As he spoke with the woman, Finney observed that pride was the most marked feature of her character. He felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to share one particular verse from the Bible:"Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven."

A ‘Society’ Conversion

The society woman seemed taken with the verse, repeating it to herself as Finney invited her to pray. Silently, he asked God to impress upon her the need to become as a child and accept salvation. Before long, it became clear that Finney’s prayer was being answered, as the woman fell to her knees, wracked with sobs. When he opened his eyes, he saw her tear-streaked face turned toward heaven. Finney knew instantly that Scripture had come to life: she was now a child of God!What he didn’t know was the dramatic effect this one conversion would ultimately have. In his memoirs Finney wrote:

"It was soon seen that the Lord was aiming at the conversion of the highest classes of society. My meetings soon became thronged with that class…As the revival swept through the town, and converted the great mass of the most influential people, both men and women, the change in the order, sobriety, and morality of the city was wonderful."

Religion Everywhere

Charles P. Bush, a native of Rochester converted during the revival, later remarked:"The whole community was stirred. Religion was the topic of conversation in the house, in the shop, in the office and on the street…Grog shops were closed, the Sabbath was honored, the sanctuaries were thronged with happy worshippers…There was a wonderful falling off of crime. The courts had little to do, and the jail was nearly empty for years afterward."

Historians say of the Rochester revival that "the place was shaken to its foundations." More than 40 of the new converts entered the ministry and at least 1,500 revivals broke out in other towns as a result of Rochester. To his credit, Charles Finney gave God all the glory:

"This is a great and glorious work -- sufficient to fill the hearts of God’s people with humility and gratitude, and their mouths with thanksgiving!"

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