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Reasons For Writing
In 1866, at the age of 74, and a year after resigning his presidency at Oberlin, Charles G. Finney began to write his memoirs. His goal was to describe revival in such a way that it might produce a new revival for the next generation. Although many were professing to be Christians, he felt that few of them were experiencing the fullness of faith. Also, as an elder statesman, he lamented the number of evangelists who were relying on their own ability rather than the power of God to persuade people to surrender completely. He hoped his descriptions of a real move of God would, by contrast, help people see how shallow the efforts of modern revivalists were.
Finney once wrote about the revivals that occurred under his observation in a newspaper article published in Oberlin Evangelist, saying, "Indeed, I should doubt if the world has ever witnessed more pure, more powerful, more lasting and desirable in their results than those that have occurred in this country during the past forty or fifty years. If my health will allow, I hope to write some account of the revivals that have occurred under my observation, and since I have been in this ministry, for the purpose, if possible, of disabusing the minds of those who have prejudiced against those revivals by false reports."
HE WROTE A DIFFERENT BOOK THAN HE TOLD
As he began to write, he reminisced and told parts of the story to his family each evening at supper. He seemed to come alive with the old memories that were stirred up by the writing process. He told many stories about his early days, often causing his family to laugh at the misadventures of a young evangelist during a mighty move of God, and at the odd effects the move had on some of the dear country folk who were caught up in it. These same family members were surprised to discover, when they read the finished manuscript, that none of those stories made their way into the final draft. To them, it was an entirely different book from what they heard during the writing process.
Something that becomes obvious to anyone who reads his autobiography is that Finney wanted to give his side of the story and to clear up some of the early conflicts that occurred between him and his denomination and fellow preachers, such as Rev. Lyman Beecher and Rev. Asahel Nettleton. He gave a considerable amount of space to defending the “new measures” he introduced and the split that his movement caused within the Presbyterian Church. The division was later said to be between those whose beliefs and practices were considered “old school” and those whose beliefs and practices were considered “new school.”
“BURN THE BOOK”
On his deathbed, Finney asked his wife to retrieve the manuscript from the attic and burn it. He said he was concerned for the feelings of those whose relatives were mentioned in the narrative. He had described their spiritual conditions so honestly that he was afraid their relatives might be hurt by what he wrote. She refused to do it.
Finney died peacefully at home in Oberlin in 1875 at age 82, following a brief heart ailment.
The Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney had been edited by Oberlin President James Harris Fairchild. Fairchild took Finney’s final concerns to heart by omitting the names of those mentioned in the narrative.
Finney’s family decided to donate his memoirs to Oberlin College in hope that the revenues would contribute to the ongoing work of the school. Today, the original draft of the book, hand-written in pencil, can be found among the Charles Grandison Finney Presidential Papers in the Oberlin Library in Oberlin, Ohio.
When the memoir was published in 1876, it was received with much interest. It has inspired countless young people who have entered the ministry and has set the high watermark for almost every revival ever since. It remains one of the best Christian autobiographies of all time.