It was in Evans Mills that Charles was reacquainted with Daniel Nash, a minister he had first encountered when he was examined to be ordained. Charles soon learned that since they had last met, Nash had been infected with an eye disease that had left him lying in a dark room, unable to read or write. Because of his ailment, Nash had given himself almost entirely to prayer; eventually, he had emerged from the sickness physically healed and spiritually transformed into a man of intercessory prayer. As Finney and Nash began to pray together in meetings, Charles was deeply moved by the power of Nash’s prayers and the magnitude of his faith.
After meeting again at Evans Mills, Finney and Nash began working together. They determined to make the unchurched their primary focus. As Nash stated in a letter,
When Mr. Finney and I began our race, we had no thought of going amongst ministers. Our highest ambition was to go where there was neither minister or reformation and try to look up the lost sheep, for whom no man cared. We began and the Lord prospered. . . . We go into no man’s parish unless called. . . . We have room enough to work and work enough to do. 6
For the next seven years until his death, Nash became a key part of every meeting Charles led. Together, they learned a great deal about “praying down revival.” Nash was not timid in prayer - it was said his prayers could sometimes be heard up to half a mile away. When Father Nash died on December 20, 1831, Charles gave up his itinerant ministry within four months to take a position as a pastor.
The greatest outpouring of Charles’s life came in Rochester, New York, starting in September 1830. Lyman Beecher, one of Finney’s harshest critics in his early years, would eventually call the revival in Rochester “the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen, in so short a time. One hundred thousand . . . were reported as having connected themselves with churches.” 7 It was recorded that as many as eighty-five percent of those converted remained Christians years later.
It was a revival that touched all social classes - from civic and business leaders to schoolteachers, physicians, shopkeepers, farmers, and migrant workers. Bars closed for lack of patrons. Crime rates dropped dramatically and stayed low for years, even as the population grew. At one point, the teenagers in the local high school were so distraught about the condition of their souls that they paid no attention to their lessons, so the director invited Finney to come and speak. Nearly the entire student body was saved, including the director, who had originally thought it was a ploy by the students to get out of their work. Forty of the students went on to become ministers. One of these later wrote:
The whole community was stirred. Religion was the topic of conversation, in the house, in the shop, in the office and on the street. The only theater in the city was converted into a livery stable; the only circus into a soap and candle factory. Grog shops were closed; the Sabbath was honored; the sanctuaries were thronged with happy worshippers; a new impulse was given to every philanthropic enterprise; the fountains of benevolence where opened, and men lived to good. 8
The Rochester revival would prove to be the height of the Second Great Awakening and a spark to light the fuse of a national revival that ran like wildfire throughout the United States in 1831. A host of evangelists, including Beecher himself, took up the torch from Rochester, and the rolls of membership swelled in churches everywhere - Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Congregational, and others alike. New England churches grew by one-third in 1831 alone.