The Spirit and Style of Charles Finney

This year marks the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the great revival of 1830–1 in Rochester, New York. It is also the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the third of the religious awakenings in that city. All of them were connected with the name of Charles Gradison Finney.

Charles Finney was born in 1792 in Connecticut. As a child, he moved with his parents to the then frontier of Oneida County, New York. He returned in his teen years to New England for schooling that included some Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. His main training, however, was in law.

In 1821, at the age of 29, Finney was converted. He immediately became the chief agent in a local revival in Adams, New York, that saw almost all the young people in the community converted. Finney began the study of theology, and was licensed as a frontier evangelist by the Presbyterian church in 1824. He expected to be limited to working among the rude and uneducated frontiersmen. Before he was middle-aged, however, he was the best-known revivalist in America.

Both by inclination and natural temperament, as well as by training, Finney became a preacher of powerful logic. He had considerable natural dramatic ability and a voice renowned for its range and rich quality. Over six feet tall, athletic in person and with a commanding presence, he was an imposing figure behind the pulpit. He was a lover of music, and himself a singer and musician of some ability.

His three revivals in Rochester best illustrate the qualities of the man. The campaign of 1830–1 was so successful that Finney’s methods have been followed by revivalists and evangelists ever since.

He came to Rochester (pop. 10,000) in September 1830 at the invitation of the First Presbyterian ...

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