Finney – A Lesson From History

When we sanitize the long and sorted history of God’s people by filtering it through our personal traditions, we miss out on a greater appreciation for the saying, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

On to the subject matter…

Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as something owed. But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.”

Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?

Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they might be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might also be accounted to them.

Romans 4:4-11 (WEB)

Now consider this quote:

“There can be NO justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that He obeyed for us.”
– Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology, 362

Why not instead say that faith without works is dead, as say the scriptures? The claim of justification without any sanctification is self-deception; but this does not permit us to throw out the former because we do not see enough of the latter. They are both part-and-parcel of the grace of God in salvation. This conflation of the two leads to a denial of what both are. For there is judicial righteousness, and there is experiential righteousness – and the two are not at odds (except in the minds of some). They are both present in true salvation, yet they are distinct in function; for the one is the begining and underpinning of the other. It is not without purpose that the apostle Paul frequently structured his letters according to this principle. Peter then shakes awake our sleepy hearts from interpreting Paul carnally, and puts in us the fear of God, convicting us of God’s holiness; and James with John clarify the synthesis: that the righteous will practice what has been given to them, and the rest are evidently not of His sheep.

It is not a question of too much or too little grace; it is a question of authentic grace. It is not a question of to much or too little law; it is a question of authentic law. Now the authentic article of faith is the divine law being written upon the heart of a man by the finger of God, and it is the giving of empowerment to obey such by the indwelling Holy Spirit – and this is all of grace. For no man has this inherently: he must be granted it from heaven. To deny this justification by faith in order to begin sanctification is to remove a foundation before building a house.

Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is GOD who justifies.
Romans 8:33 (WEB)

To set out upon a sanctified walk without being justified by faith is to set out across a bridge with no beams supporting it. It is doomed to fail, for it has no basis. It has no preexsisting grace by which to affirm that the way is sure and the goal attainable; and it has no ever-present grace to remind us that even what we have attained is all by God’s mighty power.

The man Finney often preached well against the tyranny of the self; but at times offered little more than the pitiful power of the fallen human will as its antidote – which only can perpetuate the cycle of said tyranny. (Rom 7). It is a sad truth that a great wealth of spiritual excitement and conviction can dwell alongside a ghastly lack of staying power.

Now this may be objected to by those who are aware of Finney’s teachings on the Holy Spirit, which are numerous and in many aspects quite excellent. But the Holy Spirit, were He bound by the choices of the human will or limited to man’s “uninterrupted obedience to law,” would have no power to sanctify us. For the will of man is the very first and primary matter that the Spirit comes to set right in us. For the law of God is not written on our hearts until the Lawgiver by the Spirit does so; and if He cannot do so without a sinner’s permission, then it will most assuredly never happen. But if we accept such teaching, we are left quite to ourselves, and we deny much of God’s help, however unwittingly.

For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; because the mind of the flesh is hostile towards God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be. Those who are in the flesh can’t please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
Romans 8:6-9 (WEB)

And how is the Holy Spirit obtained?

I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, that He may be with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see Him, neither knows Him. You know Him, for He lives with you, and will be in you.
John 14:16-17 (WEB)

The more true obedience to His maker that a man walks in, the more he ought to behold the gracious preordination of God in every step along the way, and all the more quickly should he therefore yield himself unto the doing of that same will of God. But the man who becomes proud of his own obedience sees it only as the doing of his own will, and mocks the grace of the God who had soveriegnly worked it all in him. This man takes little delight in being humbled; and rather than simply surrendering to the will God, he constantly makes treaties with his Creator, thinking it to be the Lord’s method. Man’s desire to “be like the most high” of his own accord and by his own means is insatiable; and it must be crushed by the overbearing power of the Spirit of Grace, who is the mouth of the fount of true sanctification.

Do I hereby condemn Charles Finney? No! Based on many other things he said, I actually believe that he himself had a real and powerful walk with God. For by God’s grace, many who are attracted to vain philosophy may yet be constrained by His power to truly know and walk with Him despite their most carnal notions; and they are herein most blessedly inconsistent. Finney also lived in a day of great spiritual slumber – and despite the shear reactionism behind such of his teachings as those here quoted, he was apparently not without a good measure of real fruit. I dare any one of us to presume that we were the better man for that hour. God knew what He was doing.

The legacy of those things which we call the movings of Christ throughout the ages is one often beset with the mixture of man’s disasterous religious recipes and earthly philosophy.

O Lord, give us eyes to see that which is pure, holy, and becoming of You; that we may test all things, and hold fast to what is good!

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