Charles Finney, and all of the new theology and practices associated with him, came charging upon the religious scene in the United States in late 1825. At that point the length of the Second Great Awakening was remarkable; for over a quarter-century it had blessed America, fostering the sending of missionaries abroad, the founding of schools and colleges, and the conversion of tens of thousands.

One of the foremost evangelists had been Asahel Nettleton, a quiet, scholarly Calvinist who insisted on reverence in his meetings. But it would be Finney who propelled the awakening onto center-stage in America, and gave it another fifteen years of life. The side-effects became more widespread than ever before: out of it came power for the antislavery crusade, women’s rights, prison reform, temperance, and much more.

Finney was tall and handsome, and he had penetrating, hypnotic eyes which riveted his audiences. His eyes were “large and blue, at times mild as an April sky, and at others, cold and penetrating as polished steel,” one observer stated. Along with that, he possessed a ma jestic voice, which could be immensely persuasive with crowds. In addition, he had studied to be an attorney, and he turned the legal logic he had developed, and his courtroom skills, to the use of the pulpit.

In Finney’s day preaching was often very formal. As he plunged into evangelistic work in the back woods of upper New York State in 1824, he offended some who said he destroyed the dignity of the pulpit with his direct, personal style. But Finney’s informal preaching had a rapid-fire impact on large congregations, and converts grew in number. Many warned him that being dramatic in the pulpit might turn away the educated. Just the opposite proved ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.