Rev. William Finley was born in Warren county, Ky., on the 30th of November, 1800. His parents were pious people and members of the Presbyterian Church. His mother died when he was an infant, and for a few years he was nursed and brought up by Mary Taylor, an aunt. His father in a few years married again, and removed to Robertson county, Tennessee. The reader will remember that these were the times of the great revival of 1800, which originated in this country and swept all over it. Mr. Finley when quiet young was the subject of deep and abiding convictions, but seems not to have experienced a change of heart until he was a grown man and married. It is proper to state here that the father of Mr. Finley early became a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and of course was a decided advocate of the revival measures of that day.
While quite young--but at what period we are not informed--he was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Hutchings, and soon thereafter removed to Illinois and settled in Bond county, His wife and several brothers and sisters had become deeply pious, and felt and manifested great interest for his salvation. Since a child he had been the constant subject of deep conviction for sin, and often had great wrestlings of soul on the subject. Not until the month of October, 1825, did he make up his mind fully to seek God and cast all his care upon him. It was at old Bethel church, in Bond county, at a sacramental meeting held by Presbyterians, and in which Cumberland Presbyterians also united and labored earnestly, that Mr. Finley found the "pearl of great price." An old memorandum, furnished us by his son, Dr. W. M. Finley, of Salem, Ill., tells us that on Sabbath night of that meeting, Oct. 6, 1825, he made a full surrender of all to Christ, after having a very clear and impressive sense of his lost and utterly helpless condition. For some days after he experienced this great change he was not fully satisfied, fearing he had been deceived and the change was not what God in his Word required. He therefore prayerfully read the Bible, and with great searchings of heart wrestled with God for a positive assurance of his safety and peace with God. This blessed assurance finally came so plain and satisfactory that he could not longer doubt. Happy would it be for the Christian Church now, if all young converts would thus carefully examine the foundation of their hopes. To use his own words: "This great question being satisfactorily settled, I at once took up my cross, and engaged with trembling anxiety in the discharge of Christian duty." He first erected the family altar, and there offered his morning and evening sacrifice to God for himself and family. He next engaged in active work in whatever way he could do good in the revival which was going on in the neighborhood. In conversation, prayer and exhortation he was very active and very useful. Mr. Finley records that for some years after his conversion he was sometimes the subject of deep gloom and perplexing doubts about the genuineness of his change. But searching the Scriptures and fervent prayer enabled him finally to dispel these seasons of gloom, and entertain an unshaken confidence and assurance that he was "accepted in the Beloved."
Not long after his conversion and union with the Church he felt impressions to preach the gospel. About this time Mr. Finley's mind was greatly agitated with the doctrinal questions so rife in that period. On the one hand, the old system of decrees and election, as taught in the Westminster standards, (which, after a thorough investigation, he decided to mean nothing less than absolute fatality,) he found he must reject if he believed the plain teachings of God's Word. On the other hand, the apostasy plank in the Armenian system seemed to his mind a great discouragement to a penitent sinner. Being greatly perplexed with these doctrines on either hand, he says in his memoranda, "My mind found a suitable remedy as exhibited in what is sometimes termed the middle ground system, rejecting the extremes of both the Calvinistic and Arminian systems." He kept on examining and sifting these doctrines until he became thoroughly convinced of the truth of the doctrinal stand-point of Cumberland Presbyterians, which position he preached with great zeal, fervor and success for many years afterward. His choosing his Church was wholly from principle, and not merely social circumstances or human policy.
The following letter from his son, W. M. Finley, M.D., of Salem, Ill., is in no respect an exaggeration of the industry and success of this laborious servant of God. It is due to the truth of history, however, to record, that in the latter part of Mr. Finley's life, on account of trouble which arose in his Presbytery, he withdrew from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and was not re-united with it. But all who were conversant with his preaching and his feelings testify that he carried with him to the grave is early attachment to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and her doctrines. It was an unfortunate occurrence which severed his connection with us, but of the right or the wrong of his course in this matter we desire to spend no opinion. He was not what the world would call a learned or eloquent preacher, but he was what was perhaps better: a truly spiritual, devoted minister of Jesus--one than whom few men have been more successful in winning souls to Christ. To say that he had his weak places and made blunders, is but to acknowledge what is applicable to the best of men. Of Mr. Finley's family we know but little, save that he was married twice. His last companion yet survives. Of the children by the first wife we have no knowledge, except of the very worthy son who furnished the interesting letter mentioned below, and to whom we are indebted for nearly all the information obtained respecting the life of his father.
"Rev. Wm. Finley, after he made a profession religion October 25, 1825, united with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and was soon after received under the care of Illinois Presbytery as a probationer to preach the gospel. How long he was a probationer and when he was licensed to preach I know not. [For the date of his reception and licensure see the minutes of Illinois Presbytery, published in the first part of this work. He was ordained with Rev. Isaac Hill by Vandalia Presbytery at Mt. Zion June 18, 1833. Rev. Joel Knight preached the ordination sermon, Rev. John Barber, Jr., presided, and Rev. John Barber, Sr., gave the charge. We quote from the records.--EDITOR.] But I have often heard him relate the trials and hardships under which he labored to support his family, and acquire a sufficient knowledge of the various branches of study required by the Book of Discipline in order to fit him for ordination.
"My earliest recollection of my father is, that he was seldom at home. His stay at home was always more like a visit than anything else. He never took much interest in or trouble about the cares pertaining to the small farm on which he resided. My mother always superintended the farm work. If mother had not been one of the most industrious of women, and an extra good manager of farming and finance, father could never have given all his time and talents to the interests of the Church. His compensation was so small that the wants of the family would have compelled him to seek some other means for their support. at this period (about 1840) father traveled and preached all the time. His preaching tours generally extended from six weeks to two months, during which time he was never at home. He was then living in Pleasant Prairie, Bond county, where he resided about ten years. In 1843 he removed to VanBurensburgh, on the old stage road from Vandalia to Hillsboro. Here he taught school during the Winter of 1843-4, and preached every Saturday and Sabbath, and often one or more evenings during the week, in the village and the adjacent neighborhood.
"In the Spring of 1844 he went to Salem, Ill. He had been visiting said place for several years, and preaching in various parts of Marion county. In 1840 I think he organized a congregation called Mt. Carmel (now Kinmundy), the first Cumberland Presbyterian organization ever made in said county. After locating in Salem he soon organized a congregation called Bethel, seven miles east of Salem, and in 1846 he organized a congregation in Salem, and, through his own labor and exertion, the congregation erected the first house of worship ever put up in Salem. All that the Salem congregation ever was, or now is, is mainly due to his untiring efforts in its behalf. He continued to preach in Marion county and the adjoining counties for about twenty years, and by him and his unceasing efforts McLin Presbytery was organized, to supply the field of labor that he had mainly been instrumental in opening up to Cumberland Presbyterianism. He organized congregations in Fayette, Clay, Jefferson, Wayne, White and Edwards counties during his ministry, which formed the principal field of his labors, and most of which is included in the bounds of McLin Presbytery. He was untiring in his work, going from house to house and place to place, preaching daily. I think that the statement is strictly true, that for thirty years of his ministry he averaged as much as one sermon per day. He once showed me his memorandum book, kept for five years just preceding his locating in Salem. He had preached on an average one and a half times each day for the five years, traveled twelve miles each day, and had received as remuneration $143 per years. I have often thought that he could visit more families, shake more people by the hand in one day, than any modern politician can on the eve of an important election. Such was his daily life for over forty long, weary years. He devoted all his time and energies both of body and mind, to the cause of the blessed Redeemer. In his early ministry his voice was strong and his zeal unbounded, and as such he was a successful revivalist. Camp and protracted meetings were never complete in his field of operations, unless 'Uncle Billy Finley,' as he was familiarly called, was there to do much of the preaching.
"One distinguishing feature in his life was the great influence he had over wicked men. They all respected and loved him. Many of them would loan him money on his own note, or often on his own word. They would defend him on all occasions when necessary, and contribute liberally to his support, even when unsolicited by any one. Though father was always poor financially, and often borrowed money in small sums, he always had good credit, and always paid his debts promptly and according to contract.
"He continued his ministerial labors until his death. He never, from my earliest recollection, engaged in any business to make money, and seemed not to regard money in any other light than a means to supply pressing wants, get books, and enable him to preach the gospel. He taught school only a few quarter sessions, and that was only to enable him to supply the direst wants of his family, or get the much-coveted books.
"The last sermon he ever preached was in the Presbyterian
church in Salem, a few days before his death. He was on a visit
to his children in Salem, having some three years before located
in Williamson county, Ill. He died on the 23d day of November,
1870, being seventy years old lacking but seven days. His last
sickness was of short duration. Just before his death it is said
by those present that he seemed to be gone for several moments,
and then to revive for a short time, and clearly and plainly describe,
in glowing terms, the appearance of Moses, Daniel and St. Paul--his
three favorite Bible characters. He also told of hearing the sweet
music of heaven; and then, after such living testimony to the
truth of the religion he had so long preached, he passed away
with a sweet smile on his face. And thus my father died, in full
hope of endless happiness. I was not permitted to be present with
him in his last hours, but from the testimony of those present
I can but feel that he died a happy and triumphant death, and
entered into that rest prepared for the redeemed in heaven."
[Source: Logan, J. B. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois, Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Missions, Publication and Education. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, pages 174-180]
Rev. William Finley, a minister who preached in the early Bear
Creek church. an uncle of Miss Lizzie Finley. He was ordained
until 1833 by Vandalia Presbytery. One says of him, "I have
often thought he could visit more families, shake more people
by the hand in one day, than any modern politician on the eve
of election." In his early life, his voice was strong, and
he was a successful evangelist. Camp meetings were never complete
unless "Uncle Billy Finley" as he was called, was there
to do his part of the preaching. One great feature in his life
was the great influence he had over wicked men. They all respected
and loved him. They contributed to his support unsolicited by
any one. He was one of the early teachers of Illinois. The last
sermon he preached was at Salem, Illinois, a few days before his
[Source: One Hundred Twenty Years of Donnellson Presbyterian Church History 1819-1939. Compiled by Olive F. Kaune, page 33]