When Charles Finney preached , people listened. Finney, considered one of America’s greatest evangelists of the 19th century and a leader of what later become known as the “Second Great Awakening,” drew enthusiastic crowds at his revival services.
A contemporary of Finney’s, Rev. Charles P. Bush, described the scene at one of his revivals: “The churches were not large enough to hold the multitudes that thronged to hear him. After the pews were all filled, the aisles and areas would be supplied with chairs and benches; persons would sit as close as possible all over the pulpit stairs; and still others, men and women, and children, would stand wherever standing-room could be found, throughout a long and exhausting service.”
Finney’s preaching had a lasting effect, not only on the personal lives of those who heard him but also on the broader society. In his memoirs, Finney himself described the impact of one his revivals: “This revival made a great change in the moral state and subsequent history of Rochester. The great majority of the leading men and women in the city were converted. ... From night to night I had been making appeals to the congregation, and calling forward those that were prepared to give their hearts to God; and large numbers were converted every evening.”
Finney, who believed strongly that salvation came through grace alone by faith, saw “works”—the way people act in the world, including, in his case, adamant opposition to the abomination of slavery—as evidence of faith. He wrote, “When I first went to New York, I had made up my mind on the question of slavery, and was exceedingly anxious to arouse public attention to the subject. ... in my prayers and preaching, I so often alluded to slavery, and denounced it, that a considerable excitement came to exist among the people.”