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WHOLE No. LXXIII. JANUARY, 1877.
VOL. XIX, No. 1.
CHARLES GRANDISON FINNEY.1 The readers of the Quarterly who have already had the privilege of perusing the fascinating “Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, written by Himself,” will not wish to have the same story repeated at second-hand, much less will they care to have it condensed. In these Memoirs, however, we have not an autobiography of Mr. Finney, but rather, as he modestly states it, an account of the revivals of religion with which his name
Mr. Finney was the son of Sylvester and Rebecca Finney, and was born in Warren, Conn., 1792, Aug. 29. His early life was spent in Oneida and. Jefferson Counties, N. Y. He attended an academy in Connecticut, 1815-18. Studied law at Adams, N. Y., till 1821, and practised there. Studied theology with Rev. George W. Gale, of Adams. Ordained by St. Lawrence Presbytery, 1824. Preached as evangelist in Middle and Eastern States until installed, Second Free Presbyterian Church, New York City, 1833. October, after being dismissed, he was installed Broadway Tabernacle Church, 1834. Theological Professor, Oberlin, 1835, June, and retained connection with the college till death. Was president from 1851 to 1866, Professor Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 1851–58, and pas. tor First Congregational Church, 1835-72. Labored also as evangelist during the winter months, till 1860; also in Great Britain, eighteen months, 1849–50, and again, 1859-60. He published“ Lectures on Revivals,” “ Lectures to Professing Christians,” “Sermons on Important Subjects,” “ Guide to the Saviour,” “ Lectures on Systematic Theology,” and “ Finney on Masonry." Married, ist, 1824, October, Lydia R., daughter of Nathaniel and Jerusha Andrews, of Whitestown, N. Y. She died 1847, December, leaving five children. He married, 2d, 1848, November, Elizabeth Ford Atkinson, of Akron, O. She died, Syracuse, N. Y., 1861, December, and he married, 3d, 1865, September, Mrs. Rebecca (Allen) Rayl. He died in Oberlin, of a heart affection, 1875, Aug. 16, aged 82 years, 11 months, and 17 days.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1877, by CHRISTOPHER Cushing, in the
Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. SECOND SERIES. VOL. IX. NO. I.
and labors had been connected. As might be expected, we find in it comparatively little that will aid the reader in gaining a complete idea of Mr. Finney's many-sided character. To promote revivals was his absorbing life-work, and no single portrait could more truly represent him than that which he has himself unconsciously drawn. But while he was an evangelist, and in that capacity was, as one has termed him, a fiery John the Baptist,” he was also a pastor, a college president and theological teacher, an author, a citizen widely acquainted with and constantly interested in civil affairs, an economist, skilful in the management of business, a legal adviser, a neighbor, in the sense in which our Lord applied the term to the good Samaritan, a personal friend to thousands, and especially their spiritual counsellor, and withal a faithful and tender husband and father. His biographer (if he shall ever have one) will describe him in all these and other relations, and there will be little ground left for the prejudice that has so often 'pronounced him to be only a narrow, intense, and bigoted religionist. Meantime a brief sketch of his life and character, based upon some measure of personal acquaintance with him and the community upon which he has left his deepest impress, may be of some service to his memory.
1. Apparently Mr. Finney owed little to ancestry or early education. His parents were irreligious; and when, in 1794, they removed from Litchfield County, Conn., to the then wild, unevangelized region of North-western New York, they were apparently taking their boy, at the tender age of two years, out of the reach of all possible Christian influences. A prayerless home, in the midst of a godless frontier community, is seemingly as unfit a place as could well be chosen for the training of one who is destined for the Christian ministry. But Mr. Finney was, by nature, unusually susceptible to moral and religious impressions; and this susceptibility must have been fostered to some extent by the Puritan notions which came with the family from their New England home. His mother's disapproval of the recklessness of the people about them, though not very outspoken or positive, was one of his earliest recollections.
Froude says that “whatever exists at this moment in England and Scotland of conscientious fear of doing evil, is the remnant of the convictions which were branded by the Calvinists into the people's hearts." The Calvinistic pulpits of New England, during the last and the preceding century, produced a like effect upon the American people. There may have been, relatively to the population, fewer professors of religion in New England a hundred years ago than to-day, but there was, in the popular conscience, a profounder fear of divine justice. The Puritan idea of law and penalty went with the New England emigrants to their frontier settlements, even when the ministry and the church were left behind.
The moral fibre in Mr. Finney's early character must be traced to this, or else to his natural constitution, rather than to any religious training that he received, either at home or in the church. He says that when he began to study law, at the age of twenty-five, he was “almost as ignorant of religion as a heathen.” Up to that time he had never sat statedly under the preaching of an educated ministry, although he had spent four years as student and school-teacher in New Jersey and Connecticut. In his old age he used often to refer to the paucity of his early opportunities, regretting especially that from a child he had not “known the Holy Scriptures.” But it is a remarkable fact, which he has not thought worthy of notice, that in spite of his lack of religious advantages, he never became reckless or vicious. As a young man, he was spirited and, no doubt, sometimes rough and hilarious; but, considering his associations, he was exceptionally conscientious and high-minded. This must have been due mainly to the strong hold which moral ideas always had upon him. He "shewed the work of the law written in his heart.” He was thus naturally adapted to legal studies; and these studies, specially as he pursued them, were eminently fitted to quicken his natural discernment of moral truth.
“In studying elementary law, I found the old authors frequently quoting the Scriptures, and referring especially to the Mosaic Institutes as authority for many of the great principles of common law. This excited my curiosity so much that I went and purchased a Bible, the first I had ever owned; and whenever I found a reference to it by the law authors,