Life of Charles G. Finney

By Aaron Hills

Chapter 14


In the autumn of 1856 Finney was again invited to Boston. He began in Park Street Congregational Church. The first Sermon was directed to the searching of the Church: "For," he wrote, "I always began by trying to stir up a thorough and pervading interest among professors of religion, to secure the reclaiming of those that were backslidden, and search out those that were self-deceived, and, if possible, bring them to Christ."

After the congregation was dismissed, the pastor said: "Brother Finney, I wish you to understand that I need to have this preaching as much as any member of this Church. I have been very much dissatisfied with my religious state for a long time, and have sent for you on my own account and for the sake of my own soul, as well as for the sake of the souls of the people." Finney had several protracted conversations with him. One evening, at a prayer and Conference meeting, he related to the people his experience, and told them he had been that day converted.

Some of the pastors thought it was injudicious to make a thing of that kind so public; but Finney thought it was manifestly the best means he could use for the salvation of the people, and highly calculated to produce among professors of religion generally a very great searching of heart. The work was extensive, and there were many conversions; but he left in the spring of 1857, with the understanding that he should return in the autumn.

The winter of 1857-8 was the period of a great revival that prevailed throughout all the Northern States. It swept over the land with such power that, for a time, it was estimated that not less than fifty thousand conversions occurred in a single week. This revival had some peculiarly interesting features, It was carried on, to a large extent, through lay influence, so much so as almost to throw the ministers into the shade. There had been a daily prayer-meeting observed in Boston for several years; and, in the autumn previous to the great outburst, the daily prayer-meeting had been established in Fulton Street, New York, which has been continued to this day. Such prayer-meetings were established throughout the length and breadth of the Northern States. "I recollect," says Finney, "in one of our prayer-meetings in Boston that winter a gentleman arose and said: 'I am from Omaha, Neb. On my journey east I have found a continuous prayermeeting about two thousand miles in extent.'"

It was evident that the Lord intended to make a general sweep in Boston, A noon prayer-meeting was started in Old South Church, It was crowded, and even multitudes could not get in. Daily prayer-meetings were established in other parts of the city. Mrs. Finney held ladies' meetings daily at the large vestry of Park Street. All that could sit and stand were crowded into it.

Finney preached all over Boston, Charlestown. Chelsea, and East Boston, The revival was so general and comprehensive that it was impossible to count converts. They flocked to Christ by thousands. All classes of people were inquiring after God everywhere. "This revival became almost universal throughout the Northern States. A Divine influence seemed to pervade the whole land. Slavery seemed to shut it out from the South. The people there were in such a state of irritation, of vexation, and of committal to their peculiar institution, which had come to be assailed on every side, that the Spirit of God seemed to be grieved away from them. There seemed to be no place found for Him in the hearts of the Southern people at that time, It was estimated that during this revival not less than five hundred thousand souls were converted in this country." (Memoir, p. 444.)

"It was a revival carried on very much through the instrumentality of prayer-meetings and personal efforts. The ministers did not oppose it; but the general impression seemed to be, 'We have had instruction enough until we are hardened; it is time for us to pray.' In answer to prayer the windows of heaven were opened and the Spirit of God poured out like a flood." The New York Tribune published several extras filled with accounts of the revival as it progressed through the North.

While Finney was laboring in Boston. at this time, Theodore Parker, the famous Unitarian preacher, tried to block the wheels and throw odium upon the work. Mr. Finney made personal calls at Mr. Parker's house, seeking a private interview; but, though in the house, Mr. Parker declined receiving him, It was Mr. Finney's conviction that a conversation would reveal the error in Mr. Parker's theology. The effect of Theodore Parker's harangues at Music Hall was highly pernicious. People who were deeply convicted at Finney's meetings would be turned back from Christ by Parker. Christians in all denominations noticed this, and they united on a day of special prayer that God would either convert him or in some way destroy his influence, so that sinners would come to God. Forty persons met in the vestry of Park Street Church, and thus prayed until they got the witness. One brother exclaimed, "I have it; God hears our prayers!" From that hour the scene changed. Parker became sick, and left the city for Europe in search. of health, but never returned. He died at Florence. (Reminiscences, p. 40.)

Finney had been now leading mighty revivals before the eyes of the Nation for more than thirty years. His revival lectures had been widely read. Thousands of ministers had sat at his feet, and learned of him how to catch men. They knew how to go to work to bring about a revival, and how to deal with inquirers, as the ministry had never known before Finney's day. The Church and ministers had become so aroused in this country to the importance of the work, and God had so largely and universally blessed their labors, that Finney made up his mind to return and spend another season in England, and see if a similar movement might not be started that would pervade that country.

ENGLAND, 1858-1859

He sailed for Liverpool in December. Mr. Brown came to Liverpool to meet him and induce him to labor again in Houghton and St. Ives. The minister there was very fond of wine and a great opposer of total abstinence. He could not long endure Finney's preaching, but fled from the place. The people turned to God generally, and the converts organized a new Church. From there he went to London, and preached at Borough Road Chapel. The Church had been torn to pieces on the subject of temperance. The Spirit was poured out mightily, and "the work deepened and spread till it reached every household belonging to the congregation." The members of the Church made confession to one another, and settled their difficulties. Some years afterward, the pastor, Mr. Harcourt, visited Finney in Americas and told him that the revival had continued In his Church up to that time, and that his people felt that if there were not conversions more or less every week, something was entirely wrong, and they were frightened.

The ministers in England were surprised that Finney in his preaching reasoned with the people. Dr. Campbell insisted that it would do no good. But the people felt otherwise, and they frequently told Finney that his seasonings had convinced them of what they had always doubted, and that his preaching was logical instead of dogmatic,. and therefore met the wants of the people.

"I had myself," says Finney, "before I was, converted, felt greatly the want of instruction and logical preaching from the pulpit. This experience always had a great influence on my own preaching. I knew how thinking men felt when a minister took for granted things that needed proof. I therefore took great pains to meet the wants of persons who were in this state of mind. I knew what my difficulties had been, and therefore I endeavored to meet the intellectual wants of my hearers. When Dr. Campbell came to examine. his converts, he declared, 'Why, they are theologians! He then confessed his error.'"

A physician invited him to his home in Huntington for a little rest. He rested a few days only. The passion for souls moved him, a veritable fire shut up in his bones, and he could not keep still. He soon had a revival on his hands in Huntington, in which the doctor's whole family was converted, among them a skeptical son, who was also a physician, and so many other converts that they united together and built a great chapel for the proclamation of a soul-winning gospel, and formed themselves into a Church.

He went back again to London, and labored a few weeks more, after which he complied with the urgent invitation of Rev. Dr. Kirk, of the Evangelical Union Church, a denomination that had grown out of a widespread revival awakened by the publication of Finney's "Revival Lectures," to come to Edinburgh, Scotland.


He labored there three months, most of the time in Dr. Kirk's Church, one of the largest places of worship in the city. The Spirit was poured out as ever, and the pastor's hands were full of labors, day and night, among inquirers Mrs. Finney's labors here also were greatly blessed. She, with Mrs. Kirk, established a Ladies' prayer-meeting, which was continued many years. From Edinburgh Finney went to Aberdeen Scotland.


Mr. Finney found the congregation of Mr. Ferguson greatly hedged in by the denominational prejudices, which, indeed, Finney found very strong in Scotland, But in time the barriers of prejudice melted away, and the spiritual blessings began to overflow into other denominations, and Finney got an invitation to other Churches. From there he went to Bolton.


It is a city in the heart of the great manufacturing district of England. It lies within the circle of that immense population that spreads itself out from Manchester. In this place the work of the Lord commenced immediately. The first evening, in the home in which he was a guest, the man's wife and two servants were converted, On the third day the vestry of a church was filled with inquirers, many of whom were converted. The largest hall in the city was secured and packed every night until not another person could get into the building. The Spirit was poured out in great power, and the brethren canvassed the entire city, going two and two, and praying, when permitted, in every house. Bolton was one of Wesley's favorite fields of labor; and they have always had there an able ministry and strong Churches. Their influence was far in the ascendancy there over all other religious denominations. Finney found among them most excellent laborers for Christ.

Here he makes a comment which I think holiness preachers and evangelists would do well to think about and pray over: "The Methodist brethren were very much engaged, and for some time were quite noisy and demonstrative in their prayers, when sinners came forward. For some time I said nothing about this, lest I should throw them off and lead them to grieve the Spirit. I saw that their impression was that the greater the excitement the more rapidly would the work go forward. They therefore would pound the benches, pray exceedingly loud, and sometimes more than one at a time. I was aware that this distracted the inquirers and prevented them. from becoming truly converted; and although the number of inquirers was great and constantly increasing, yet conversions did not multiply as fast as I had been in the habit of seeing them, even where the number of inquirers was much less. After letting things pass on so for two or three weeks, until the Methodist brethren had become acquainted with me and I with them, one evening, upon calling the inquirers forward, I suggested that we should take a different course. I told them that I thought the inquirers needed more opportunity to think than they had when there was so muck noise; that they needed instruction; and needed to be led by one voice in prayer, and that there should not be any confusion, or anything bordering on it, if we expected them to listen and be intelligently converted. I asked them if they would not try for a short time to follow my advice in that respect, and see what the result would be. They did so; and at first I could see that they were a little in bondage when they attempted to pray, and a little discouraged because it so crossed their ideas of what constituted powerful meetings. However, they soon seemed to recover from this, because I think they were convinced that, although there was less apparent excitement in our meetings, yet there were many more converted from evening to evening."

Finney remained in Bolton three months, and the work became so powerful that it broke in upon all classes, and even created a considerable excitement in Manchester, from which city people came in large numbers to attend the meetings. The owner of a cotton mill invited Finney to speak to his operatives. He preached to them, and there were sixty converted that afternoon. One evening he preached on confession and restitution, and a gentleman was moved to make a restitution of fifteen hundred pounds (about $7,500) in a case where he thought he had not acted upon the principle of loving his neighbor as himself. In another instance a man went away and made restitution of thirty thousand dollars, It was said that, had there been an audience-room large enough, Finney might have had an audience of ten thousand each night. In April of 1860 Finney went to Manchester.


There Congregationalism predominates over other denominations. The manufacturing districts have a stronger democratic element than other parts of England. But the Christian leaders in the city were not thoroughly united, To his great grief, Finney frequently heard expressions that indicated a want of real heart-union in the work. There was dissatisfaction with some of the men who had been selected to manage the work and provide for the general movement. The Methodist and Congregational brethren did not work harmoniously together as they did in Bolton. This grieved the Spirit, and crippled the work. However, the meetings Were very interesting, and great numbers of inquirers were found on every side, and great numbers would attend inquiry-meetings, and were powerfully convicted and converted; yet the barriers did not break down, so as to give the Word of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord free course among the people. (Page 469.)

Finney and his wife continued in Manchester until the first of August. He makes this comment: "Denominational lines are much more strongly marked in that country than in America. Church of England people rarely attend a Dissenting place of worship. Methodists will not freely worship with other denominations. The same is true of all denominations in England and Scotland. I am persuaded that the true way to labor for a revival movement there is to have no particular connection with any distinct denomination.

Finney's friends urged him and his wife to go to Wales and rest a time, and then come back to Manchester for another season. But they took an affecting leave of a multitude of converts and friends, and sailed for home.

Finney was now sixty-eight years old. For forty years he had been performing prodigious tasks, doing the work of several men, He was worn out, and needed rest, He came home, and found a vast number of new students and citizens and that there was a great need of a revival. The brethren were of the opinion that a revival effort must be made at once. Finney made it for four months, until the work bid fair to make a clean sweep of the college and town. He went home from one of the most powerful meetings he ever witnessed and was taken with a chill, which was followed by a three months' sickness.

Here, in the story of his life, Finney makes this striking comment, which, for a man of his years, was something wonderful: "Before I went to England the last time, I saw that an impression seemed to be growing in Oberlin that, during term time, we could not expect to have a revival, and that our revivals must be expected to occur during the long vacations in the winter. This was not deliberately avowed by any one; and yet it was plain that that was coming to be the impression. But I had come to Oberlin, and resided here for the sake of the students, to secure their conversion and sanctification; and it was only because there was so great a number of them here, which gave me so good an opportunity to work upon so many young minds in the process of education, that I remained here from year to year. . . . I continued thus for many years after my heart strongly urged me to give up my whole time in laboring as an evangelist.

"While I was last in England, and was receiving urgent letters to return, I spoke of the impression to which I have alluded, that we could not expect revivals in term time, and said, if that was going to be the prevalent idea, it was not the place for me; for during our long vacation our students were gone, of course, and it was for their salvation principally that I remained. I was free in saying that, unless there could be a change, Oberlin was not my field of labor any longer."

After 1860, Finney felt inadequate to the exposure and labor of attempting to secure revivals abroad. But he was abundant in labors at home, teaching theology in the college, preaching to the great congregation of fifteen hundred twice on the Sabbath, which he did for eleven years longer, until the summer of my graduation in 1871.

There was another very general and powerful revival in Oberlin in the winter of 1866-67. Two or three years after that, I saw, on a Sabbath afternoon, one hundred people, mostly students, come down out of the gallery and gather before the pulpit to be prayed for and give themselves to God, though there had not been an extra religious service in the town. It was only the climax of a series of sermons of Finney, all purposely bearing toward that end.

Finney delivered a course of lectures to the theological students each year. He resigned his pastorate of First Congregational Church, Oberlin, in 1872, but still retained his connection with the seminary, and completed his last course of lectures in July, 1875, only a few days before his death. During the last month of his life he preached one Sabbath morning in the First Church, and one in the Second. He was then eighty-three years old, gentle and tender, rich and radiant in the beauty of goodness.

His last day on earth was a quiet Sabbath, which he enjoyed in the midst of his family, walking out with his wife at sunset to listen to the music at the opening of the evening service in the church near by. "He still stood erect as a young man, retaining his faculties to a remarkable degree, and exhibited to the end the quickness of thought and feeling and imagination which always characterized him." Upon retiring, he was seized with pains which seemed to indicate some affection of the heart; and, after a few hours of suffering, as the morning dawned, he died, August 16, 1875. Thus closed in peace a life of storm and battles with the powers of darkness; thus went to his reward the most potential preacher of righteousness and successful soulwinner of his century, or, so far as we know, of the Christian centuries.