One day a lawyer in Adams, New York, grew disturbed about his soul. He retreated to a nearby forest, climbed a fence, knelt by a log for prayer, and experienced a dramatic conversion. Waves of liquid love, he later said, rolled over him. The next day, Charles Finney resigned from the bar to preach the gospel, saying he was now on retainer for Jesus Christ.

His tall frame, riveting eyes, shaggy brows, beaklike nose, and powerful voice brought many to Christ. His preaching reflected a legal mind, for he presented the case for Christ as if convincing a jury. And he was dramatic. Audiences seemed to smell smoke whenever he spoke of hell, as he frequently did.

The highlight of Finney’s career occurred on March 9, 1831, when he successfully concluded a six-month series of meetings at the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. The city was dramatically transformed by his preaching. One hundred thousand people were reportedly converted, including many of the city’s leaders—bankers, lawyers, physicians, judges. Stores in Rochester closed so people could attend Finney’s meetings, and the taverns went out of business. The theater became a livery stable, and the crime rate dropped by two-thirds. The city jail was virtually empty for the next two years. The Rochester meetings have been called “the world’s greatest single revival campaign,” and 1831 is known as the greatest year of spiritual awakening in American history.

Finney pastored for a year in New York City while recovering from cholera. Then, suffering from respiratory problems, he accepted a teaching position at Oberlin College in Ohio, later becoming its president. He left school every year at the end of the term to conduct crusades, and according to some estimates, a half million were converted during his lifetime. His innovative methods (like asking seekers to come forward) paved the way for later evangelists like D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.

We were sent to speak for Christ, and God is begging you to listen to our message. We speak for Christ and sincerely ask you to make peace with God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.9.

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