Updated: Oct 23, 2019
As a young man, he studied law in Adams, New York. While reading Blackstone's Commentaries on Law, he noted continuous references to the scriptures. Blackstone repeatedly mentioned the Bible as the highest authority. This moved Finney to buy his first Bible and ended up reading it more than his law books. The word of God brought deep conviction to his soul, and on October 10, 1821, out entered the woods near his office to pray; when he came out, he entered into church history.
Charles Finney was born one year after John Wesley died.
He was born while Washington was still President and died while Grant was President. In fact, he lived under 1seventeen different presidential administrations.
As a young man, Finney was reported to have been 6' 2" and weighed 185 pounds.
Finney was an accomplished musician, known for having a good voice, having taught music at school. He was invited to be the leader of the choir at the church in Adams, even though he was not a Christian. Even as a boy, his brother Zenas said that he was always singing. “He was always singing, always full of his tunes.”
He also learned to play the violin and bass viol, (smaller than a cello), which he did for relaxation.
Finney had three sisters and five brothers. His brother, George, was also a successful minister, being referred to in one local history book as "a famous temperance advocate".
He began to teach in the neighborhood school, a one-room log cabin, when he was only sixteen years old and again when he was living in Connecticut, while in his twenties, but he had never been a formal school teacher. He had only “a common education” himself, having attended local schools and a formal academy for short time. However, education would always be part of his life focus. His knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was above average.
He loved sports, being athletic in his youth and loved hunting into his old age.
He witnessed both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. As a young man he enlisted in the army at nearby Sackets Harbor and eventually watched as his own sons went off to war for the Union Army.
Finney entered full-time ministry when he was less than three years old in the Lord.
He was sent out and supported by the Female Missionary Society, to whom he wrote accounts of his effort during the first few years of his ministry.
It has been estimated that there were 500,000 conversions related to Finney's ministry.
You cannot measure his success by numbers alone. His influence is incalculable. Almost every major player in the Church in this past century was impacted by Finney, either directly or indirectly.
David Livingstone’s father used to read Finney’s lectures on revival to his children, inspiring them to live for God.
One pastor in Boston had been greatly impacted by his personal acquaintance with Finney, who corresponded with him and having preached at his church many times. It was one of his staff that lead a young man to the Lord named D. L. Moody.
In London in 1844, George Williams was converted while reading Finney's writings. Inspired by Finney’s social reforms, Williams, in turn, started the YMCA.
After addressing school students who could not focus on their studies, many were converted. Many years later he was surprised to learn from one of the teachers that about forty of these young converts would entered ministry as pastors or missionaries.
The congregation at Evans Mills listed Finney as their second pastor and partially paid his salary. From there, he preached in all the neighboring villages and hamlets.
Finney had six children by his first wife Lydia, yet none of them followed him in the ministry.
The last thing he wrote was a tract about the perils of Free Masonry, but one of his sons became a charter member of the Royal Arch Masons.
During his meetings in Rochester, New York, it is estimated that 100,000 people were saved. Many of the city's leading lawyers, physicians, and businessmen were converted. As a result, the whole character of the city was changed.
He moved his family into an area of New York City called “Five-Points”, which was considered the most dangerous and derelict place in America. Years later, this part of the city was portrayed in the movie “The Gangs of New York” to show how bad it was. It was here that he and his team turned an old theater into a church, in the very heart of the worst part of the city.
He was finally forced to discontinue his evangelistic ministry due to bad health. After many years of near constant preaching, he became a professor at Oberlin College, where he could do the most impact the next generation of leaders. He agreed to the position as long as he was free to do evangelistic meetings the school breaks.
He once toured the Holy Land, Greece, Rome, and Turkey, exploring the areas that pertained to church history, while he recovered his health.
During the cholera epidemic that hit New York City in 1832-33, Finney was struck down along with the disease. The remedy he used for a cure was so bad that it rendered him unfit to carry on his work for months.
He had a tent made to do summer camp meetings.
Charles father, Sylvester Finney, lived to be 83 years of age. Charles himself lived to the same old age, dying within two-weeks shy of his 83rd birthday.
He was not raised in a Christian home. His parents were not believers until after his conversion.
Charles was not the first convert in his family. By 1818, one of his younger brothers had written him that he had become a believer. Charles responded by saying, "I actually wept for joy and gratitude, that one of so prayerless a family was likely to be saved."
Charles eldest brother, Zenas, did not become a Christian until he was over eighty years old, even though his brother was the most sought after preacher in America.
The first prayer Finney ever heard in his father’s house was his own. After he had become a believer, Charles returned to their farm in Henderson, where his father met him at the gate. After greeting him, Finney said that he had never heard a prayer in his father's house. The old man lowered his head, burst into tears and said, "I know it, Charles; come in and pray yourself." Both his mother and father accepted the Lord.
John Jay Shipherd, who established Oberlin College, named the school after Jean Norton Oberlin. Shipherd then invited Charles Finney to become one of his professors, who incidentally, at the time was reading "The Life of Jean Norton Oberlin" and even named his second son Frederic Norton in honor of Mr. Oberlin.
Finney was the second President of Oberlin. He first became involved with the college as Professor of Theology, though he had no formal training for the ministry himself.
When Finney was first invited to come to Oberlin, he prayed over the invitation and said that he would accept it under certain conditions. One of them was that the trustees would not interfere with the internal regulation of the school. Another was that "we should be allowed to receive colored people on the same condition as white people." The school accepted both conditions. Oberlin became one of the first fully integrated colleges in America. In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson became America's first black woman to receive a college degree. She later taught school in Washington, D.C. and became the first woman principal of the school, where many famous African-Americans eventually graduated from.
Oberlin was the first college to be co-educational, conferring degrees on three women.
Once when Finney’s health was broken; God gave him a way to continue working without keeping up his regular schedule. He held some lectures on revival and they were published in book form.
Immediately, twelve thousand copies of them were sold as fast as they could be printed. They were distributed all over the world, causing seeds of revival to be carried everywhere. Many people were saved just by reading the book. One publisher in England printed eighty thousand copies of them. These prepared the way for Finney to go there to preach.
Finney preached for nine months in the church building constructed for Whitefield’s revival in London: "After my settlement at Oberlin, I laboured half the time abroad as an evangelist, until 1860, when my strength no longer permitted such labors. I was in England a year and a half, at two different times, making three years there in all. Nine months I occupied Whitefield's old Tabernacle, was several months in Birmingham, Bolton, Manchester, and Edinburgh, and three weeks in Worcester.”
The famous black orator, Frederick Douglas, once asked to speak in the church in Oberlin where the elderly Finney was in the pulpit. Douglas, himself now gray-haired and bent over, came forward to ask for forgiveness. He said, "When I was young and a slave, Mr. Finney, when my back quivered under the master’s lash, I clung to God and felt the comfort of true religion. But prosperity has been too much for me, and I have come under the dominion of the world, and have lost my first love."