Charles Finney’s False Starts

Lake Ontario, NY

Charles Finney grew up south of Lake Ontario in New York State. ‘My parents were neither of them professors of religion. I seldom heard a sermon unless it was an occasional one from some travelling minister.’[i]

He was a quick learner and was entrusted with some teaching responsibilities in the local school in Henderson from the age of 16 until he was 20.[ii]

Preaching that would make you laugh
Finney writes, ‘Almost the only preaching that I heard was that of an Elder Osgood, who was a man of considerable religion but of very little education. His ignorance of language was so great as to divert the attention of the people from his thoughts to the very comical form of expressing them.

For example, instead of saying, ‘I am’, he would say, ‘I are’ and in the use of the pronouns thee and thou etc, he would mix them up in such a strange and incongruous manner, as to render it very difficult indeed to keep from laughing while he was either preaching or praying. Of course, I received no religious instruction from such teaching.’[iii]

Preaching that would make you cry
In 1812, aged 20, Finney moved to Connecticut and lodged with an uncle and attend an Academy there. He began attending his uncle’s Congregationalist Church, led by the much-loved but aging, Peter Starr. This was the first time he began regularly attending church services.

Finney decided that he would hear Christianity consistently presented. Biographer Keith Hardman writes,

‘Having developed some abilities in speaking and leading himself, he naturally expected to find theology preached with a certain amount of vigour and dynamic. It was not to be.

To observe Starr’s methods, Finney sat in the balcony where he could look down on the pastor’s performance and note his techniques.

To his chagrin, he found that the pastor ‘read his sermons in a manner that left no impression on my mind. He had a monotonous, humdrum way of reading what he had probably written many years before…It seemed to be always a matter of curiosity to know what he was aiming at.’[iv]

Finney’s later criticism of local pastors and preachers was, in large measure, based on these experiences.

No further formal education
Already in his twenties, Finney asked his teacher about the possibility of attending Yale University. The teacher dissuaded him however, both in light of his evident intellectual ability as well as his age.

Finney later regretted that his formal education progressed no further than high school. But in his twenties he was extremely self-confident.

If, however, Finney’s spiritual advancement was also faltering there was at least one ray of light: his brother was suddenly converted. He wrote to Charles. He was the first of the Finney family to be converted and something about his letter to the twenty-six year old hit home: ‘I actually wept for joy!’ he said.

The seeds of grace were being sown.

For the next post in this series click here

For the first part of the Charles Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer, (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987), p.30

[ii] ibid p.31

[iii] The Memoirs of Charles Finney, Ed. Rosell and Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989), p.22-24

[iv] Hardman p.33

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2 thoughts on “Charles Finney’s False Starts

  1. Dave Recker March 12, 2012 / 1:25 pm

    Lex, thanks for posting this I look forward to reading the others, Blessings, Dave Recker, Columbia, Mo

  2. Megan E May 28, 2013 / 9:53 pm

    Though much of my life I have also faltered spiritually, it is good to hear that his brother turned to Christianity. I live in a family where two of my siblings do not believe but reading this only makes me want to fight harder for them. Even if my spiritual advancement has slowed down, it does not mean I don’t believe. This has given me a lot of encouragement.

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