Charles Grandison Finney was one of the most prominent evangelists of the Second Great Awakening in 19th-century America. He was born on August 29, 1792, in Warren, Connecticut. When he was two years old his family moved to Hanover, New York.
After graduating from Oneida Academy, Finney taught from 1808 to 1812 in the school district of Henderson, New York. In 1816 he became a clerk in the law office of Judge Benjamin Wright in Adams, New York. In 1818 Finney opened his own law firm.
In October 1821 Finney experienced religious conversion. He left his law practice and began an informal study of the Bible. In July 1824 he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He identified himself as a Congregationalist for most of his life.
From 1824 to 1833 Finney led religious revivals and preached throughout the northeastern United States. He was most active in northern New York, where he was a very popular evangelist, and in particular Rochester, where he was invited to live by that city’s religious and business leaders.
In 1832 Finney became the minister of the Second Free Presbyterian Church of New York City. He also helped to establish seven other Presbyterian churches in New York City. In 1835 the wealthy merchants Arthur and Lewis Tappan, who were the financial sponsors of Oberlin Theological Seminary, invited him to come to the seminary and establish its theology department.
Finney accepted their offer but continued to preach at his church. At Oberlin Seminary he held a number of teaching positions, including professor of systematic theology and professor of pastoral theology, as well as teaching courses in moral philosophy.
Finney served as the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Oberlin and as a member of the seminary’s board of trustees from 1846 to 1851. He was elected president of Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1851, a position he held until 1865.
While at the seminary, Finney founded what became known as “Oberlin Theology,” which embodied his belief that an individual could only attain perfection by leading a strict Christian life. His religious ideas made Oberlin Theological Seminary one of the leading religious colleges in America for almost a century.
He wrote a number of important and influential theological works. In 1836 Finney’s first book, titled Sermons on Important Subjects, was published. He followed it with Lectures to Professing Christians, which was published in 1837. In 1840 a collection of his lectures was published as Skeletons of a Course of Theological Lectures.
Finney’s Lectures on Systematic Theology was published in 1846. Although he began work on his autobiography, Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney, in 1867, it was not published until a year after his death.
Although he resigned as president of the seminary in 1865, he continued to teach there until he was 83 years old. Finney died in August 1875 in Oberlin, Ohio.