THE ENCOURAGING ELDER
Before Charles G. Finney had been converted, one of the Elder’s from the Presbyterian Church in Adams would often visit Finney in the law office where he worked. He was trying to build a relationship with the young man, but Finney used these visits to bluntly share his reservations about religion and lay out his views about what was wrong with the church. This clearly pained the elder’s heart. Later, Finney would write about this time with some regret, saying, "Often however, he seemed to be in agony of soul; I could often hear him sigh, -- could see the struggles of his mind; -- the tear would start in his eye, and the words falter on his tongue. I used to be searching after the cause of this… after my conversion I could see that I had often given Elder Hinman this trouble and anxiety which I had so frequently seen in his countenance. I saw that my folly and sin had caused him this deep grief."1
The Elder, Josiah Hinman, was one of the original six elders of the church in Adams. He was born in New England in 1769, making him about twenty-three years older than Finney at the time.2
After Finney had become a Christian, his struggles with religion continued. He found that it was difficult to keep the flame that had been lit in his heart from being smothered out by the dead meetings. His own pastor, Rev. George W. Gale, was often the source of this struggle. He had insisted that the new convert embrace his theological views, which Finney, in his integrity, could not accept. While he had no Christian background to draw upon, and not much in the way of formal education, he often found himself in long drawn out debates with this Princeton trained pastor, whose views took away life rather than adding to it.
Finney began boarding with his pastor, where he would often be invited into to his study for theological training. The more he resisted what was being taught, the more the young pastor resisted him. Rev. Gale would often say hurtful things to Finney, about his beliefs and his potential, telling him that he would never want it to be known that young man had trained under him. This discouraged young Finney.
During this time, Elder Hinman would come to the Gale’s house to lend and ear to the discouraged young Christian, letting him talk it out. He would then try to encourage him, often staying up until 10 or 11 O'clock at night, before walking the three miles back home, praying for the man as he went. Finney wrote the following in his memoirs about this period of conflict with his Gale:
We used to have many protracted discussions; and I would often come from his study greatly depressed and discouraged, saying to myself, "I cannot embrace these views come what will. I cannot believe they are taught in the Bible." And several times I was on the point of giving up the study for the ministry altogether.
There was but one member of the church to whom I opened my mind freely on this subject; and that was Elder H, a very godly, praying man. He had been educated in Princeton views, and held pretty strongly the higher doctrines of Calvinism. Nevertheless, as we had frequent and protracted conversations, he became satisfied that I was right; and he would call on me frequently to have seasons of prayer with me, to strengthen me in my studies, and in my discussions with Mr. Gale, and to decide me more and more firmly that, come what would, I would preach the Gospel.
Several times he fell in with me when I was in a state of great depression, after coming from Mr. Gale's study. At such times he would go with me to my room; and sometimes we would continue till a late hour at night crying to God for light and strength, and for faith to accept and do His perfect will. He lived more than three miles from the village; and frequently he has stayed with me till ten or eleven o'clock at night, and then walked home. The dear old man! I have reason to believe that he prayed for me daily as long as he lived.
After I got into the ministry and great opposition was raised to my preaching, I met Elder H at one time, and he alluded to the opposition, and said, "Oh! my soul is so burdened that I pray for you day and night. But I am sure that God will help. Go on," he said, "go on, Brother Finney; the Lord will give you deliverance."3.
Do you have a Hinman in your life? Have you had someone see your potential when others could not, who you could share your thoughts and feelings with? Someone who would pray for you and encouraged you?
This is a photo of the house where Finney once boarded with his pastor, the very place where Elder Hinman would come to encourage him. The second photo is the gravestone of Elder Hinman, found in the old Adams Cemetery. If you are interested in seeing more places that relate to Finney’s life and ministry, take our tour. You can find more details about this at www.finney-revival.com
1. Taken from The Oberlin Evangelist
2. Durant's "History of Jefferson County".
3. Later Elder Hinman, who then lived outside the village, eventually moved into the village of Adams, living on Railroad Street, the second house east of Clay Street. Today there is a nice gray home on this site, but no deeds have been researched to verify that it was his house.