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Leader of the Century


I was a little boy during the great depression. I was born in 1931 six miles east of New York’s Times Square and shortly after that, my parents bought a modest home on a dead end street where it would be safe for me to grow and play. The street was 320 feet long, lined with eight houses on each side and several abandoned tennis courts sat at its dead end.

No one had any money in those days but we always had a Christmas tree. I remember when you could buy a Christmas tree for a dollar. In early January all the men in our area would bring their Christmas trees to the abandoned tennis court where they would be stacked into a huge pile which was then set on fire. It was an impressive sight for a youngster’s eyes. All those dry fir trees bursting into an instant conflagration was exciting to see. That neighborhood tradition continued until the war came. Memories of good days long ago!

I teach a course that covers religious revivals starting with the 16th century, stories of other fires and exciting conflagrations of the Spirit. I find this course easy to teach since its content is fascinating and familiar to me. My two favorite historical personalities are Charles Grandison Finney and Benjamin Hardin Irwin. My guess is that you have heard of one of these men, but not the other.

Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), leader during the Second Great Awakening.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Finney was a lawyer who lived in upstate New York. He was handsome, blond, six feet tall, 200 pounds, and a fine athlete in his day. He had a wonderful baritone voice, was an excellent cellist and had a brilliant mind. Once he became a believer in Jesus Christ, he left law and went on to be one of most famous preachers of the nineteenth century. In my mind, that makes him one of those “not many noble” that the Bible talks about. Finney was a “feminist” in that he insisted that women break the longstanding tradition of not speaking in church. Later, Finney opened Oberlin College, of which he was one of the founders, to women and to escaped slaves.

When Benjamin Irwin preached in the 1890’s in the heartland of our country, fire and heat could be felt and seen by the audience. This phenomenon brought all kinds of attention and popularity to Irwin. However, he was soon to crash and burn as his leadership came to an end in 1900. Two gifted men, one who lived for others and one who lived for himself.


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Category: Church History, Spring 2003

About the Author: H. Murray Hohns went home to be with Jesus on November 28, 2012. He was on staff at the largest church in Hawaii and served on his denomination's investment committee from 1999 until his death. Hohns held two degrees in Civil Engineering, an MA in Theology from Fuller Seminary, and served as an instructor at Foursquare's New Hope Christian College (formerly Pacific Rim Christian College) in Honolulu. He wrote six engineering books and hundreds of articles in every type of newspaper, magazine and journal.

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