Charles Finney was not destined to become a schoolteacher, even though he loved it and was loved by those he taught. It was suggested to him that a career in law might be the thing.
At that time the procedure was to study, as an apprentice, under a practicing lawyer. This Finney did in the town of Adams, NY. He was a diligent and able student and during the few court appearances he made was a very real match for any opponent.[i]
The Authority of the Bible
During his studies he noticed the repeated references to the Bible. The Scriptures were often referred to as an authority in terms of legal principles. It was impossible to ignore.
‘This,’ said Finney, ‘excited my curiosity so much that I went and purchased a Bible, the first I had ever owned…This soon led to my taking a new interest in the Bible, and I read and meditated on it much more that I had ever done before.’[ii]
Free will, conviction and personal application
As a student of Law Finney learned three things that later marked his preaching. The first was the moral responsibility of a person with regard to guilt. The exercise of their own free will to commit a certain act was critical to securing a guilty verdict. If it was an involuntary act then the question of guilt is not clear. Secondly, he learned the importance of using close, searching, legal questions to convince both the guilty person and a jury of their guilt. And thirdly, he learned that in order to persuade a jury the lawyer needed to speak directly to them, not talk in an abstract way.
Finney, attending the Presbyterian Church in Adams, began to be troubled by the preaching of the Pastor, George Gale, who although younger than Peter Starr, preached in the same style. Decidedly Calvinistic, Gale emphasised the inability of a sinner to get right with God on his own, and, according to Finney, he never directly addressed the congregation – never saying ‘you!’.
Finney later acknowledged, ‘I now think that I sometimes criticised his sermons unmercifully.’[iii] But Gale continued to pursue and encourage Finney, visiting him in the law office and seeking to find out how much understanding of the gospel Finney was gaining.
Gale’s persistence and Finney’s conviction of sin
It must be acknowledged that Finney’s conversion, humanly speaking, was in large measure due to the evangelistic efforts of this young Reformed pastor.
Numbers were being added to the church in Adams. Gale was by no means an unevangelising hyper-Calvinist. Finney began to feel a certain, unshakeable conviction of sin.
After evangelistic sermons Gale would hold ‘inquiry meetings’ for those seeking salvation. Finney finally attended one. He wrote, ‘I trembled so that my very seat shook under me.’
Gale also wrote of that meeting, ‘He looked at me with an air of solemnity I shall never forget…
“I am willing now to be a Christian! Do you think there is any hope in my case?”
I told him he might be converted, but if he were it would be something very similar to God’s exercising miraculous power: It was not teaching that he needed. It was compliance with what he already knew.’[iv]
Peace at last!
Finally Finney submitted to God. He went up into the woods determined to get right with God before returning. He knelt down and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
He immediately experienced a freedom in his spirit and began to pray. He prayed for hours revelling in a peace that was inconceivable only moments before. He was determined that he would now preach the gospel to others.
To read about how Finney, on the evening after his conversion, was baptised in the Holy Spirit, click here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog