The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Unknown Recipients
[Extracts from letters of Finney are published in Philemon H. Fowler, Historical Sketch of Presbyterianism Within the Bounds of the Synod of New York (Utica, NY: Curtiss & Childs, 1877)]
His [Finney's] early life is more summarily related in a private letter than in his Autobiography:
I was born in Warren, Litchfield county, Ct., the 29th of August, 1792. When I was two years old, my parents removed to what was then called Brothertown, Oneida county, New York, subsequently the home of a tribe of Indians. The white families were obliged to remove, and my father purchased land and removed to the parish of Hanover, now Kirkland, but then a part of the large township of Paris, in the same county. This removal was earlier than my recollection. I remained in Hanover, or Kirkland, and went to school, summer and winter, until about sixteen years of age. I do not remember the exact date. My father then removed to Henderson, Jefferson county, N. Y., where I taught school for a time, but there were no schools in which I could push my education. Soon after I was twenty years of age, I went east and spent about four years in teaching, and attending high school for a time. I had it in mind to enter Yale College, but yielded to the advice of my instructor who was a graduate of that Institution. He said that at the rate of progress I was making, I could easily pass over the whole curriculum in two years, and that I could not afford to spend four years for a diploma. I believed him, and relinquished the idea of entering college, and arranged to go South and teach in an Academy, with the design of pursuing my studies at the same time. But I was overruled in this, and returned to my parents in Jefferson county. My mother was infirm, and plead so hard for me to remain near her, that I gave up a further literary course, and commenced the study of law in the office of Benjamin Wright (afterwards Benjamin Wright and David Wardwell), at Adams. After remaining there about four years I was converted to Christ, and soon after commenced the study of Theology. I was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of St Lawrence in the spring of 1824,* and soon after went into [page 259] the northern part of Jefferson and the southern parts of St. Lawrence counties, where I labored in powerful and extensive revivals, until I commenced labors in Westernville, Oneida county, in the autumn of 1824.
* Adams, Dec. 20, 1823, is the exact date of Mr. Finney's licensure, according to the Minutes of the Presbytery. º
His [Finney's] views on the general subject, as expressed in private correspondence with a friend, are too moderate to provoke severity of censure:
I do not ask whether the measure be old or new, expressly commanded or recognized in Scripture. The questions are: Is it consistent with the Bible, i. e., is it not inconsistent with its spirit [page 269] and letter? Is its tendency good or bad? Is it so liable to abuse that the precedent would be dangerous or not? Is it a common sense way of bringing the truth in contact with the mind, or is it so strange as greatly to shock the church and lead to vain wrangling; or, is it so in accordance with common sense, as to have the good sense of thinking men in its favor? Does God own and bless it? Is it consistent with order and conducive to deep thought and solemnity? Such questions as these I would ask, and the answer would settle my mind. As to everything like confusion, or that naturally leads to it, it should, in my judgment, by all means, be avoided.
Mr. Finney utters a caution in his private correspondence which merits notice: "Of late, I fear, that defective instruction is letting down the tone of revivals, and that there is to be a very disastrous reaction. Ministers are striving to preach the gospel without the law, and hence the true significance of the gospel is not understood."