and after his conversion, Finney rejected the Calvinist doctrine of passive salvation
available only to the elect. He believed that God offered Himself to everyone and, most
importantly, that one could be saved only through an active acceptance of God’s invitation
to grace. The sinner chooses to sin just as the penitent chooses to repent.
To reach as many souls as possible, Finney employed what came to be called “new
measures”, although many had been used by earlier preachers. These new measures
triggered alarm among conservative clergy. Opponents such as Asahel Nettleton were able
to list as many as twenty-nine objectionable practices, but the most controversial were:
public praying of women in mixed-sex audiences, daily services over a series of days, use
of colloquial language by the preacher, the “anxious bench”, praying for people by name,
and immediate church membership for converts.
To a student of American culture, Finney is a crucial figure of the Jacksonian era. Finney’s
influence rose in tandem with that of Andrew Jackson; both addressed the issues of
equality of men, and free will and self governance. In his Lectures on Revivals of Religion,
delivered to his New York congregation in 1834 and published in book form the following
year, Charles Finney takes pains to define a revival. Above all, it is not a miracle in the
sense of a physical change brought on solely by God, but a change of mind which, though
influences by the Holy Spirit, is ultimately a matter of the individual’s free will.
Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1824, Finney was soon at odds with conservative
clergy. The new measured used by Finney and his followers caused enough alarm among
their more orthodox colleagues to be the subject of a convention held at New Lebanon,
NY in July, 1827. Motions were made to restrict the New School revivalists, but no
definitive anti-new measures resolution was effected. The victory for Finney and his
fellows was in emerging relatively unscathed from a confrontation with powerful
In the years following New Lebanon, Finney’s ministry moved from small town to big city;
he went on to preach in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In 1835 he began work in
Oberlin College and Theological Seminary. He was President of Oberlin College from
1851 to 1866 and although he retired in 1872, Finney kept up his involvement with
Oberlin’s students until his death in August of 1875.
My mother told me all the stuff