Charles Grandison Finney
No other person has influenced the subject of revival in America like Charles Grandison Finney. Nor did anyone better represent the untamed spirit of frontier America in the 19th century than Finney. His life and ministry spanned continents and controversy. In America, Finney was 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 him-Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
Born in 1792, Finney's earliest desire was to become a lawyer. However, God had another direction in mind for him. Even though he began to fulfill his dreams by studying law and working in law offices, Finney was restless and struggled with the fate of his eternal destiny.
In his published memoirs, Finney said he came to a point of decision-the question of his soul's salvation had to be settled before he could continue his studies. A well-chronicled experience tells how he left his house one morning for a walk. After a quarter of a mile, "I turned to go up into the woods, I recollect to have said, 'I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from [here].' I had gone into the woods after an early breakfast; when I returned to the village, I found it was dinner time."
During the time Finney was alone with God, he remembered kneeling in prayer and being converted. The event was so profound that he said it was as if "waves of liquid love [were flowing] throughout his body."
The next day Finney announced that he would no longer seek a career in law, but instead would become a minister of the gospel. He was licensed to preach in December 1823; and soon after, the Female Mission Society of Western New York commissioned him as a missionary to Jefferson County. No one realized that God was preparing to ignite a revival fire that would sweep across the country.
Finney fearlessly addressed his listeners with passionate revivalism, never side-stepping the awfulness of hell and unbelief. Many have likened him to an Andrew Jackson in the pulpit, concluding that Finney preached a gospel that was written on buckskin. In 1825, Finney was asked to preach in western New York. The results were immediate and exciting. Many within the crowd wanted to know how they could receive assurance of salvation.
The response that followed in towns such a Utica and Rome, New York, was characterized by the same hunger to know Christ. His ministry in Rochester from 1830-31 has been called the greatest year of spiritual awakening in American history. Historians tell how shops and markets closed, so people from every walk of life could attend the meetings. Local taverns went out of business as the hearts of people were changed and softened to God's redemptive message.
Finney believed that true repentance and faith in Christ-a turning away from sin and to God-were the keys to spiritual conversion. Said Finney, "Probably when we get to heaven, our views, joys, and holy exercises, will so far surpass anything that we have ever experienced in this life, that we shall be hardly able to recognize that we had any religion while in this world."
Earlier in his career, Finney regarded himself a self-made theological man, claiming he "had read nothing on the subject except my Bible." However, later he taught pastoral theology at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he also served as college president and wrote two books on systematic theology.
One historian said he "unleashed a mighty impulse to social reform by insisting that new converts make their lives count for the Kingdom of God."
While Finney's overseas influence was limited, thousands did come to know Christ through his preaching in England. As a result, church membership grew.
Many of Finney's books remain in print today. Lectures On Revivals has been translated into several different languages. Finney's messages cause us to think about our own eternal destiny. His words concerning obedience and purity to God still lead us to a point of decision.
A.W. Tozer once said, "We must not think of the Church as an anonymous body, a mystical religious abstraction. We Christians are the Church and whatever we do is what the Church is doing. The matter, therefore, is for each of us a personal one. Any forward step in the Church must begin with the individual."
Revival does not begin with the masses. It begins in the hearts of individuals who long to know and taste the goodness of God's eternal mercy and grace. Nor is it confined to the experience of conversion from sinner to saint. All of us from time to time need a fresh awareness of God's presence in our lives. Personal revival is one of the most intimate moments we can spend with the Savior.
Have you grown weary from life's stresses and continuous pressures? Christ will revive you and bring freshness to your heart and soul if you come to Him in humility and honesty. The message of revival that Finney preached is nothing more than discovering increasing intimacy with Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Life.