A brilliant and gifted young man, Charles Finney demonstrated
at an early age the potential for great achievement
in any field. He chose law and was soon established
in the upstate New York hamlet of Adams.
A physically active sort, Finney loved to stroll the
wooded area just outside the village. He often spent
time pondering the many quotations of Scripture he had
found while examining judgments and legal codes of his
day. He had recently begun reading the Bible daily to
augment his study of law.
To his surprise, Finney found that Bible reading had
instead triggered serious questions about his own eternal
destiny. This struggle over his fate came to a head
early one October morning as a verse of Scripture kept
running through Finney’s mind:
"Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken
unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye
shall search for me with all your heart."
The Presence of God
Suddenly, it seemed as if Charles Finney was in the
very presence of God. Listen to his words:
"It seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to
face…I fell down at His feet and poured out my
soul to Him…Without any recollection that I had
ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the
world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner
that seemed to go through me, body and soul…No
words can ever express the wonderful love that was shed
abroad in my heart."
Charles Finney abandoned his law practice to enter
the ministry and was soon licensed to preach. Rather
than taking up residence in a local church, however,
he found himself drawn to itinerate evangelism, among
westward-moving, pioneer families.
Finney was quite the pioneer himself when it came to
preaching. Instead of reading from a prepared text,
he spoke extemporaneously from his heart. He allowed
women to lead prayer and publicly called sinners to
repent --- by name, from the pulpit! His many innovations
were called "New Measures" and seemed to appall orthodox
clergy. But his methods worked!
Nine Mighty Years
A series of revivals began to sweep the Northeast
in what came to be known as Finney’s "Nine Mighty
Years" of evangelism. Like a wildfire, it spread: Evans
Mill, Antwerp, Rome, Utica, Auburn, Troy, Wilmington,
Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
But the revival that eclipsed all others took place
in the city of Rochester in the year 1830. And it all
began with one simple encounter.
The wife of a prominent Rochester attorney had invited
Finney to her home, hoping to learn more about this
preacher who was becoming quite famous. Secretly, she
worried that revival, which seemed to follow Finney
everywhere, would ruin the coming social season.
As he spoke with the woman, Finney observed that pride
was the most marked feature of her character. He felt
prompted by the Holy Spirit to share one particular
verse from the Bible:
"Except ye be converted and become as little children,
ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven."
A ‘Society’ Conversion
The society woman seemed taken with the verse, repeating
it to herself as Finney invited her to pray. Silently,
he asked God to impress upon her the need to become
as a child and accept salvation.
Before long, it became clear that Finney’s prayer
was being answered, as the woman fell to her knees,
wracked with sobs. When he opened his eyes, he saw her
tear-streaked face turned toward heaven. Finney knew
instantly that Scripture had come to life: she was now
a child of God!
What he didn’t know was the dramatic effect this
one conversion would ultimately have. In his memoirs
"It was soon seen that the Lord was aiming at the conversion
of the highest classes of society. My meetings soon
became thronged with that class…As the revival
swept through the town, and converted the great mass
of the most influential people, both men and women,
the change in the order, sobriety, and morality of the
city was wonderful."
Charles P. Bush, a native of Rochester converted during
the revival, later remarked:
"The whole community was stirred. Religion was the
topic of conversation in the house, in the shop, in
the office and on the street…Grog shops were closed,
the Sabbath was honored, the sanctuaries were thronged
with happy worshippers…There was a wonderful falling
off of crime. The courts had little to do, and the jail
was nearly empty for years afterward."
Historians say of the Rochester revival that "the place
was shaken to its foundations." More than 40 of the
new converts entered the ministry and at least 1,500
revivals broke out in other towns as a result of Rochester.
To his credit, Charles Finney gave God all the glory: