Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

Warren, Litchfield County, Connecticut, USA
Death 16 Aug 1875 (aged 82)
Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio, USA
Burial Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio, USA
Plot Section C
Memorial ID 19664 · View Source
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American Presbyterian minister and leader in the Second Great Awakening in the United States. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism. Finney was best known as an innovative revivalist during the period 1825-1835 in upstate New York and Manhattan, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian perfectionism, and a religious writer. Together with several other evangelical leaders, his religious views led him to promote social reforms, such as abolition of slavery and equal education for women and African Americans. From 1835 he taught at Oberlin College of Ohio, which accepted both genders and all races. He served as its second president from 1851 to 1866, during which its faculty and students were activists for abolition, the Underground Railroad, and universal education. Born in Warren, Connecticut in 1792, Finney was the youngest of fifteen children. The son of farmers who moved to the upstate frontier of Jefferson County, New York after the American Revolutionary War, Finney never attended college. His leadership abilities, musical skill, six-foot three-inch stature, and piercing eyes gained him recognition in his community. He and his family attended the Baptist church in Henderson, where the preacher led emotional, revival-style meetings. Both the Baptists and Methodists were known for their fervor through the early nineteenth century. He "read the law", studying as an apprentice to become a lawyer, but after a dramatic conversion experience and baptism into the Holy Spirit in Adams, he gave up legal practice to preach the gospel. In 1821, Finney started studies at age 29 under George Washington Gale, to become a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church. He had many misgivings about the fundamental doctrines taught in that denomination. He moved to New York City in 1832, where he was minister of the Chatham Street Chapel and introduced some of the revivalist fervor of upstate to his urban congregations. He later founded and preached at the Broadway Tabernacle. Finney was most active as a revivalist 1825-35, in Jefferson County and for a few years in Manhattan. He was known for his innovations in preaching and the conduct of religious meetings. These included having women pray out loud in public meetings of mixed gender; development of the "anxious seat", a place where those considering becoming Christians could sit to receive prayer; and public censure of individuals by name in sermons and prayers. He was also known for his extemporaneous preaching. In addition to becoming a popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with social reforms, particularly the abolitionist movement. It was strongly supported as a reform movement by the northern and midwestern Baptists and Methodists. Finney frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit. In 1835, he moved to the free state of Ohio, where he became a professor at Oberlin College. After more than a decade, he was selected as its second president, serving from 1851 to 1866. Oberlin was among the very first American colleges to accept women and blacks as students in addition to white men. From its early years, its faculty and students were active in the abolitionist movement. They participated together with people of the town in biracial efforts to help fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, as well as to resist the Fugitive Slave Act. Many slaves escaped to Ohio across the Ohio River from Kentucky, making the state a critical area for their passage to freedom. Finney was twice a widower and married three times. In 1824, he married Lydia Root Andrews (1804-1847) while living in Jefferson County. They had six children together. In 1848, a year after Lydia's death, he married Elizabeth Ford Atkinson (1799-1863) in Ohio. In 1865 he married Rebecca Allen Rayl (1824-1907), also in Ohio. Each of Finney's three wives accompanied him on his revival tours and joined him in his evangelistic efforts. As a young man Finney was a third-degree Master Mason, but after his conversion, he dropped the group as antithetical to Christianity. He was active in Anti-Masonic movements. Finney was a primary influence on the "revival" style of theology which emerged in the 19th century. Though coming from a Calvinistic background, Finney rejected tenets of "Old Divinity" Calvinism, which he felt were unbiblical and counter to evangelism and Christian mission. Finney's theology is difficult to classify. In his masterwork, Religious Revivals, he emphasizes the involvement of a person's will in salvation. He did not make clear whether he believed the will was free to repent or not repent, or whether he viewed God as inclining the will irresistibly. (The latter is part of Calvinist doctrine, in which the will of an elect individual is changed by God so that he or she desires to repent, thus repenting with his or her will and not against it, but the individual is not free in whether to choose repentance as the choice must be what the will is inclined toward.) Finney, like most Protestants, affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience. Finney affirmed that works were the evidence of faith. Acts of unrepentant sin were signs that a person had not received salvation. In his Systematic Theology, Finney remarks, "I have felt greater hesitancy in forming and expressing my views upon this Perseverance of the saints, than upon almost any other question in theology." At the same time, he considered the presence of unrepented sin in the life of a professing Christian as evidence that the person must immediately repent or be lost.[citation needed] Finney draws support for this position from Peter's treatment of the baptized Simon (see Acts 8) and Paul's instruction of discipline to the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 5). Finney's writings emphasized this strong emphasis on personal holiness. Finney's understanding of the atonement was that it satisfied "public justice" and that it opened the way for God to pardon people of their sins. This was part of the theology of the so-called New Divinity, which was popular at that time period. In this view, Christ's death satisfied public justice rather than retributive justice. As Finney wrote, it was not a "commercial transaction." This view of the atonement is typically known as the governmental view or government view. Albert Baldwin Dod, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, reviewed Finney's 1835 book Lectures on Revivals of Religion. He rejected it as theologically unsound. Dod was a defender of Old School Calvinist orthodoxy (see Princeton theologians) and was especially critical of Finney's view of the doctrine of total depravity. Charles W. Chesnutt named his enslaved hero "Grandison" in his short story, "The Passing of Grandison" (1899), published in the collection, The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line, likely an allusion to the well-known abolitionist.

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 20 Jan 2001
  • Find a Grave Memorial 19664
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Charles Grandison Finney (29 Aug 1792–16 Aug 1875), Find a Grave Memorial no. 19664, citing Westwood Cemetery, Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .