It is a commonplace of antebellum historiography that the numerous reforms of the age often bore an intimate connection with Protestant evangelicalism, and Charles Grandison Finney is often portrayed as a symbol of this link. In addition to endorsing such causes as antislavery and temperance, the great evangelist inspired numerous converts to work out their salvation through useful service, including reform; and the areas swept by his revivals provided fertile soil for every manner of ultraism. Both as theological innovator and religious activist, he seemed to epitomize a tide of perfectionist optimism surging with great force against institutional restraints.Yet there was a very cautious side to Finney. He seldom committed himself unreservedly to any cause other than revivalism and generally eschewed the most controversial approaches to reform. Viewing this aspect of his career, one scholar has recently argued that “the basic thrust of Finney's thought and activity was conservative, status conscious, and pessimistic about human nature.” Because of these two faces, the historian is tempted to fix on one or the other as the “real” Finney, but it is more profitable to probe his ambiguities than to mitigate them. An examination of Finney offers fruitful insight into nineteenth-century evangelicalism's explosive potential for reform and its equally powerful tendency to limit and contain that impulse.