Oberlin College

Ohio Presbyterian Historical Society Proceedings, Vol. III (June 1941), pp. 28-33

To see the "Pastoral Theology" referred to: CLICK HERE


Though there were several effective teachers in the old Oberlin Theological Department, it was for forty years after its founding essentially a one-man institution. The Lane Rebels came in 1835 on condition that Charles G. Finney should be their teacher, and latter students were attracted mainly by the prospect of studying under him. Professor James H. Fairchild and Henry E. Peck ably substituted for and supplanted him but nobody ever took his place or supplanted him. When Finney was away, as so often happened, the attendance fell off: when he returned, it climbed again.

Finney, as was natural for a self-educated man, believed that most formal education was too theoretical and cold. In his inaugural address as Professor of Theology in 1835 he attacked the usual education of ministers. "Their physical education was defective," he said. "It rendered them soft and effeminate. Their mental education was defective. Their studies, for the most part consisted in efforts of memory, while it (they) should consist in the disciplining of the mind and invigorating of the understanding - in teaching students to reason consecutively, - to think on their legs - to draw illustrations living from nature around them - and understand the law of God. . . . Their moral education was defective. They pursued such studies that the more they studied the more cold their religious affections must become, because their minds were employed upon topics that alienate them from God. 2 In view of Finney's interest in "practical" training for the pastorate, of his dominant position in the seminary, and of his personal eccentricities, it was to be expected that his lectures on Pastoral Theology given in the Senior year would constitute one of the most distinctive and characteristic courses in Oberlin's theological curriculum.

Three different sets of students' notes on these lectures survive: One set taken in 1837, one in 1843 and one in 1857. Three of Finney's own manuscript lecture outlines are in the Oberlin library. One is undated, but apparently belongs to the period of the Forties and Fifties. The other two are dated 1872 and 1875 respectively. The outline for 1875 is in script nearly an inch high, legible even to the failing eyes of an old man. Our sources then span most of the forty-one years' history of the course. In 1837 it apparently consisted of only six lecture which were almost entirely devoted to manners and the relations of ministers with the opposite sex. It is understandable that Finney, the gentleman from New York City, should have been troubled by the uncouth manners of the farmer boys who attended Oberlin in that early period. Undoubtedly the talks on etiquette were called for. By 1843 the course had expanded to about twenty lectures and to include study habits, business habits, hints on the preparation and delivery of sermons and suggestions regarding pastoral visits. There appear to have been no major changes in content or treatment after 1843.

At the beginning of the term, Finney told his students that pastoral theology embraced "the whole field of Pastoral Office," and he differentiated sharply between the evangelist and the pastor. It was the province of the former, he declared, to "win souls to Christ & gather a flock" and of the latter to "feed, lead, superintend, & and watch over it." General theology, he defined as treating of "God, His attributes & relations," while pastoral theology was the practical study of the pastor's relations with his flock.

The pastor and his flock had reciprocal duties, according to Finney. The Pastor must "demean himself (so) as to deserve the confidence of the People," "give himself wholly to the work" and "avoid every irrelevant engagement," "feed the flock with truth well digested," "warn them publicly and privately," "pray for & with them," and "bring everything into the light of the law of God." On the other hand, it was the duty of the people of his flock "to relieve him as far as possible from all that . . . is not his proper work," "to receive him as one called and sent of God as an ambassador from the court of heaven," "to attend his appointments," "to receive and obey the truth," "to cordially & boldly cooperate with him in forming & controlling publik sentiment in respect to every branch of morals," and "to illustrate the Gospel in their lives."

He submitted a list of qualifications for the ministry: "A living, ardent piety - not last year's piety - but living now" ("A deeply pious man," he said, "will do good though he have not good talents."), "age and manhood," sound education, "aptness to teach," ordination and "the call." Also he should have "an amiable temper," a "body not deformed," "a spirit of self-sacrifice," a "gift of personal conversation," moral courage, patience and perseverance, independence, "a mellow sensibility," strong faith, "deep spiritual discernment," and "common sense." His education should provide him with an understanding of logic, "a sound mental philosophy," "at least so much knowledge of language as to be accurate & perspicuous," "an outline at least of natural science," and a thorough grounding "in the fundamentals of both natural & revealed theology." He should posses "dignity of character" not as shown in "studied reserve," "anti-social carriage," "affected sanctity," or in officious "airs & Manners," but demonstrated in "such serious purity of conversation as to forbid all trifling in (his) presence," and such a compassionate earnestness of piety as shall force the impression that (he is) a serious & a holy man."

It was very important, he felt that a minister should be married to a good wife. "Marriage [is] the right of women & no man for slight cause should defraud them." "An unmarried minister is a peculiar temptation to the other sex." "Ministers need a wife more than other men." "When a man is tied up to a bad wife and cannot be divorced he had better get out of the ministry." In one lecture he suggested ten "Indispensable or important qualifications in a [minister's] wife:"

"1. Good health.
"2. A thorough and extensive education.
"3. Prepossessing appearance.
"4. Conversational powers.
"5. Discretion.
"6. She should be a leader of her sex.
"7. Gifted in prayer.
"8. A good house keeper.
"9. A good judgment in the qualities of articles to be bought.
"10. Economy."

A minister's wife ought to have, said Finney, the "ability to keep a secret," a "spirit opposed to caste and aristocracy," and "unambiguous temper," a body not weakened "by tight lacing," and a "willingness to be poor." She must avoid "getting mixed up with neighborhood scandal," any "indulgence in dress," and "every appearance of fondness for the society of the gentlemen."

He opposed early engagements for various reasons, especially because they distracted the attention from study and from prayer and other religious exercises. As a young man approached his ordination, however, he should look about him for a suitable mate, gauging the available young women by the standard previously submitted. The neophyte was warned that after entering the ministry, whether married or not, he must be particularly careful about his relations with women. Gallantry must be avoided. "Show me a minister that is a Gallant among ladies & I will show you one who is doing little good." "Suffer not yourself to trifle with young ladies in conversation nor in any recognized way." "Beware how you write ladies; what is written is written." Finney recognized, however, that the minister must be at ease in the company of the opposite sex and not live as a recluse. It was on of the arguments in favor of co-education that the prospective pastor was thus prepared to take his place in the mixed society of his parish.

Apparently Mr. Finney did not object to the attendance of young lady visitors at these lectures. In 1840, James H. Fairchild, later President of Oberlin, but then a young "theolog," wrote to his future wife: "Mr. F. [inney] has just closed his pastoral Lectures. He gave us a half dozen or more on the subject of marriage & the qualifications necessary in the wife of a pastor, probably both for the benefit of those young men who have yet a choice to make & for the young ladies who were present at the lectures . . . . He spoke at some length on early engagements etc., said much that is true & some things that are not so true." 4

Finney's advice with regard to manners throws some light on the practices of the time and the region, as well as on his own attitude and on the status of the Oberlin theological students. Minister, he said, should always avoid levity and "all winking and roguishness," should be grave but not morose, dignified but not sanctimonious. "Where ministers hold out the idea that they are the great ones of the earth they create a false impression of religion." A minister should be polite and considerate, should "observe unusual personal kindness." In 1843 he told his students: "True politeness is nothing else than the practice of true benevolence," and, in 1857: "Good manners [are] benevolence acted out, bad manners, selfishness acted out." Ministers, of all people, he insisted, must avoid slovenliness, affection, effeminacy, coarseness and vulgarity, selfishness, impertinence, and a spirit of contradiction. They should beware of "band box manners" and of anything "foppish." They should not wear ruffles, rings, breast pins, beards and whiskers (This was in 1843, before he took to wearing them himself.), and they should not carry "gaudy pocket handkerchiefs." Evidently much more needed and occupying much more time in his talks were warnings against vulgarity and coarseness. They should not blow their noses with their fingers; they should not use a dirty handkerchief; they must not spit on the carpet; they must not put their feet and muddy boots on the sofa or on the door jambs, nor pull off their stockings before a family! He related the story of a young clergyman who "called on some ladies after walking some distance, took off his boots & hung his socks on the andirons the first thing," and told of another ministerial acquaintance who "put his feet up in a window in a ladies parlor to enjoy the cool air!" He advised the embryo preachers to keep their nails cleaned and pared and their teeth clean. It was disgusting, he said, "in anxious meetings to be obliged to smell the breath of a filthy mouth." At table, he reminded them, they were not supposed to cut their meat with their pocket knives nor wipe their mouths on the table cloth!

The minister, declared the teacher, must be the true shepherd of his flock. He ought to be the leader in his community in secular as well as ecclesiastical matters, and "He is not to admit for a moment that he is going out of his sphere" when he takes such leadership. "The legitimate field of Pastoral influence," said Finney, "is as extensive as the field of moral obligations & responsibility." It was desirable, of course, for the minister to be "acquainted with the principles of reform," though he ought not to be an "ultraist" fanatic. "The minister must have a natural adaptation to be a leader - he is to marshal the host of God's elect." He should visit his parishioners often and deal with them directly and frankly. He should not "go to get a dinner" but to transact the business of the Lord and rebuke them for their transgressions. Though the pastor ought to be straightforward, he ought, when possible, also to be tactful. "Be careful to find your people when they are not out of humour," Finney advised. "Never get all the family together when you want to talk to them. The devil often makes children cry, etc." "If possible visit the sick in the morning. Ask what kind of medicine they have been using so that you may not be deceived." "Don't assume that God is visiting them with judgments." "Don't appear unfeeling." "Always have respect for the state of the nervous system. . ." In their business affairs they were recommended to set a good example for others: "Be punctual in all business transactions." "Avoid trading horses." "Do not throw too much business upon your wife." "If you have a garden attend to it. If the weeds grow in it they will grow in your heart."

He gave detailed advice as to the conduct of religious services. The invocation should be solemn and short. The Scriptures should be read slowly, emphatically and "with unction." The Bible should be handled reverently. In announcing the hymns "name the place twice," "notice whether you are understood," and in reading the hymns be careful to "avoid nasal tones." His own prayers were likely to be long and emotional, and he advised the theologs: "Pray in the Spirit"; "If the Lord draws you near to Himself don't be too short"; "Be honest, earnest, childlike," but "Don't be tedious."

He urged careful preparation of all sermons. A minister should not study more than three or four hours a day, preferably in the morning after a light breakfast. The subjects should be timely and suited to the congregation. Illustrations should be drawn "from familiar circumstances and not from ancient history and monarchs." Though sermons need not be written out, an outline or skeleton was suggested. This was Finney's own practice. He opposed the reading of sermons and favored preaching from notes, because he said, it was more easily understood, more interesting, more instructive and more easily remembered. This was the Oberlin style of preaching throughout the early years. In delivery he advised that they be "animated but never vociferous" and "avoid studied gesticulations" and all stiff formality. Finally, they must put their whole soul into it. "Men are not cabbage heads," he told them. "You may [be] the most learned - yet you have God as one of your hearers. Preach so as to please God, for He is taking notes."

In the theological classes as in all classes the meetings were opened by prayer; Finney had introduced the practice in Oberlin. With Finney this was far from a matter of form; often the keynote of the hour's lecture or discussion would be struck in the prayer. Sometimes, even, his deep personal piety lead him on and on until a large part or the whole of the recitation period had been consumed in divine supplication. Undoubtedly the lectures were occasionally interrupted by general discussion. The tone of Finney's classes was always lively though always also fundamentally serious. The course quite clearly was fresh, realistic and stimulating, and must have contributed greatly to the effectiveness of the many young ministers who went out from Oberlin in those early days.


1. Paper read before the Society at Wooster, Ohio, June 25, 1941.

2. The Ohio Observer (Hudson, Ohio), July 9, 1835.

3. One set of student notes is privately owned. The remaining items are all in the Oberlin College Library.

4. James H. Fairchild to Mary Kellogg, August 25, 1840, Fairchild Manuscripts in the possession of James T. Fairchild, Bethlehem, Pa.

5. On the character of Finney's teaching see the comments of his former students in Reminiscences of Rev. Charles G. Finney (Oberlin, 1876), 87-88 et passim.




Copyright (c)1999, 2000. Gospel Truth Ministries

Wish to Copy a File? READ THIS


This file is CERTIFIED BY GOSPEL TRUTH MINISTRIES TO BE CONFORMED TO THE ORIGINAL TEXT. For authenticity verification, its contents can be compared to the original file at or by contacting Gospel Truth P.O. Box 6322, Orange, CA 92863. (C)2000. This file is not to be changed in any way, nor to be sold, nor this seal to be removed.