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!

Scripture & Thought – James 2:21

Was not our father Abraham justified by works offering up his son Isaac on the altar?
James 2:21

The heart of the book of James might be summed up in these two words: true faith. In the same way that wisdom is “justified by her children,” true obedience is likewise the vindication of true faith.

Thought – Ineffectual Grace

How broadly and thinly we have partaken of the grace of God, that it is become only a veneer to cover up our sins, and not the power to uproot them utterly from the heart by which they continue to be commited! We consider only what is behind – and that with much triteness – taking no thought as to what death we shall continue to sow, and what hell-fire we may thereby reap. The saving power of the grace of God through faith is not found in its being a doctrine admired, but in being a doctrine lived.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:14-18

Forgotten Gospel – A Testimony

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.
And what you hear in the ear, proclaim on the housetops.
Matthew 10:27

Long have I inwardly burned against the self-deception of the liars and the unfaithful, who fell proudly from the grace of God into works of the flesh, boasting not in Christ but rather in themselves – though they do not admit to be guilty of it, nor have they even comprehended that this is their sin.

Hear this thing which I have seen; behold this treachery that has reached my ears.

In the day that the Lord redeemed my life from the pit, setting me upon the Rock of my salvation; others He also gathered. Repentance rang out, and many approached the throne of grace for true strength, as the kindness of God in Christ was being made known. The traditions of men were losing some ground, and the Spirit was moving very directly in the midst of some.

Then just as discernment was being given among a few and spoken by them to judge between dead works and a faith which gives way to the mighty power of the Spirit – the Devil injected his details among the many.

Many who at one time had found much deliverance from sin’s power began measuring themselves by themselves and so walked again after the powerlessness of the flesh. Where once the judgement seat of Christ was rightly considered unto the gathering of heavenly reward, now it became seen as eternal damnation upon those who yet gather little. The assurance in Christ they once possessed gave way to doubt in light of their stumbling; and so they would not approach Christ in the humble confidence that once had claimed them deliverance. The Spirit became quenched by their lack of faith; for as they obsessed over their own filthy rags, they no longer reckoned themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus unto His fruitful work in them.

Few have continued into much excellence after the Spirit; for by forgetting that they were once-for-all purged of their sins by the blood of Christ, they refuse to lift their heads unto Him: preferring not to to be assured in what is hoped for, but rather in what is seen of themselves according to the law of works.

Now to the one working, the reward is not counted according to grace, but according to debt. But to the one not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as also David says of the blessedness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawlessnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not charge sin.”
Romans 4:4-8 (LITV)

The same temptation to fall into much unbelief has incessantly knocked at my own door; but I refuse to be so unmindful of the gospel which I received, in which alone can I stand, and by which alone am I kept safe. The truth of the wickedness of my own flesh leads me only to throw myself all the more upon the mighty strength of He whose life I choose to dwell in by this faith.

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness.
Romans 6:17-18

We present ourselves as instruments of righteousness only by presenting ourselves as we are in Christ Jesus according to His promise. We present ourselves to Him by faith as those who are the living out from among the dead; for in Him we are indeed that (Romans 6:8-14). Only then shall the Spirit find much room wherein to work, for the heart is at rest in His labors. Only then can we ourselves possibly learn to labor IN HIM. Only in this rest is known the ease of His yoke and the lightness of His burden.

If we seek to keep God’s commandments for any reason other than that He in Christ has already loved us, then we are walking after the flesh. For it is by the power of the very Spirit of Christ through the faith of HIM that more-than-conquerers are made. It is those who keep themselves in His unfailing love that will be kept by Him from stumbling.

…you who are justified by law are deprived of all effect from Christ, you fell from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness out of faith. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but faith working through love. You were running well; who held you back that you do not obey the truth? The persuasion is not from Him calling you.
A little leaven leavens all the lump. I trust as to you in the Lord that you will think nothing else, but that the one troubling you shall bear the judgment, whoever he may be.
Galatians 5:4-10 (LITV)

Mocking the Grace of God

And why not do evil that good may come? – as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Romans 3:8

When men charge the grace of God with being such a low and powerless thing, they reveal the self-made religion of their wicked hearts and fail to truly behold His grace. For whether they desire to get away with overt sensual wickedness, or they intend to obtain God’s mercy through human works, in both cases they are laying the exact same charge against His grace: the charge of insufficency.

To both, I answer the same:
The strength of sin is not grace.
Behold now the cross, and tremble.

“Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Be found therefore in Him, that He be found in you. For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overtake it.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

The One Who By Faith Is Righteous Shall Live!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed *beginning and ending in faith,*
as it is written,“*The one who by faith is righteous shall live.*”
Romans 1:16-17 (ESV, *with more literal order of Gk. phrasing*)

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
…Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means!
On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:28, 31

Faith upholds the law of God by its object and substance being Christ alone, who is “the end of law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4) It is only those who are righteous by faith that discover the transformative power of God’s grace. For if they shall ever have faith pure enough to walk righteously, it must be the same faith by which they were first declared righteous – even the faith of Christ, the free gift of God. It is He who begins the good work that must be allowed to finish it; lest having begun by the Spirit, we now seek to perfect ourselves by the flesh.

The scriptures declare that in this gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…” And this “to” is not to say that maturity develops into a different kind of faith, but greater faith of the same stock: indeed, that very same faith ever being freed of man-made baggage and dead works. For how is faith greater if it is not purer? The righteousness of God is revealed beginning and ending in faith. The faith like a mustard seed which grows into a great tree does not lose the nature of that mustard seed, nor can it afford to despise that pure form from whence it first sprouted. For the man doing so is “trampling the Son of God, and counting common the blood of the covenant in which he was sanctified, and insulting the Spirit of grace…” (Heb 10:29) Those who consider themselves to have advanced beyond Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sins make themselves incompatible with His continuing benefits. They abide not in the one keeping them, and their branch will wither. They forget that only the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sin; seeing that, just as Abraham’s faith ultimately rested in He who was to come, ours likewise can only rest in that same everlasting covenant. He who passed over our former sins at the same time passed over our future sins also; that we, having died and been raised in in Him, might now live to God. And only that same faith of the new child of God shall suffice to please Him. We do not grow out of the gospel, we grow into it. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23) At the judgement seat of Christ, there will be a fiery judgment of everyone’s works – and what a shame it shall be for those whose foundation remains, yet nothing gracing it except filthy rags! They have stifled the possibilities of those great rewards by which they could praise God for His glorious grace in the midst of His assembly.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Therefore, let that which each man builds upon the foundation be derivative of the precious and immeasurable resource who IS that foundation! Many have forgotten that the faith of a child, lost in the wonder of God’s grace and the innocence of new life, is the only faith immense enough to truly move mountains. And shall not our Lord be allowed restore our souls day by day to such an estate? Only such unencumbered and unentangled faith has this capacity for holy increase, because it is ever rooted in God’s love and ever deepens in its discovery of His unceasing mercies.

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy
findeth life, righteousness, and honour.
Proverbs 21:21

We love because He first loved us! This is why He holds His own to such a high account. But if He had not loved us first, we would not be His own, and He would not hold us to account as a loving father holds His children. We would be with out hope in the world.

Yet some,under the guise of maturity and moving onward from the elementary principles of Christ, end up forsaking the elementary principles as though they were not compatible with the obedience of maturity. The faith of these is nearing shipwreck unless they repent of their dead works to fully believe the gospel. But if they return to that old vomit, they crucify to themselves the Son of God a second time and put Him to an open shame; and such are those whose inheritance is weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer court of heaven. They kept not the garments freely given to them for the wedding feast, and they buried their talents. They undermined faith rather than walking in its fullness; therefore their souls do not prosper. But those who first find rest in the work of Christ find the key to surrender, that His works may show forth in them as they are finally liberated to obey Him. They are found working out the salvation already given, in the assurance that it is God who works in them to will and to do according to His good pleasure.

It is those who know that they are not condemned based solely upon the work of God in Christ who discover the freedom to abide in His grace, the only place where strength to walk uprightly is truly found. This is a great irony in light of the natural man, who cannot understand this mystery; for he seeks to establish its own righteousness rather than that which is by the faith of Christ.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed
beginning and ending in faith, as it is written,
“The one who by faith is righteous shall LIVE…”

IN HUMILITY:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Romans 4:4-8

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:6-11

WITH CONFIDENCE:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-5

…So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:12-17

So let us not only be saved from the wrath of God; let us also keep the faith unto the fullest preservation of the soul! Shame on us; that there is much in God we have yet to obtain, while many have yet to be firmly rooted in the first things of Christ in order to go forward without shipwrecking their faith!

The man after God’s own heart is the man who keeps the faith. It is the man unwavering in his devotion to Christ, despite his failing heart and flesh, who discovers increasing victory over the darkness therein by the Spirit of God. Those who do not find rest in God must be reminded again of the elementary principles of Christ should they be able to be kept by Him from stumbling. It is those who see the faithfulness of God in Christ that are enabled to pursue faithfulness. It is those who know they are holy by God’s account that are enabled to be holy. It is the scandalous mercy of God in His holy Son being offered for the filth of the world which turns the hearts of men to the fear of the Lord. That we should adjust this gospel to appeal to the self-righteous heart is a reprehensible notion; and it reveals self-righteousness in ourselves.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
John 3:17-21

It is those who see HIM that become like Him. That which they have seen and heard, they declare. There is a famine of seeing and hearing Jesus Christ and Him crucified in this land. There may be much teaching about the forgiveness of Christ; but men are not called to the substance of a faith which denies the tyranny of self-reliance and the restless man-made religion of the inner heart. Many of God’s children still need to be fully reconciled to Him in Christ. He is the vindicator of those who hang themselves fully upon Him.

Christ Jesus came trading life for life. All the evils of the curse which ail men are the symptoms of Christ not being lifted up in their place. But the church has lifted up man in the place of Christ – this is the very definition of antichrist. It is the gospel inverted. It is man’s ascension without God’s gracious condescension. It is the partaking of the tree of knowledge to the removal of the tree of life. It is the seeking of all but the kingdom of God and His righteousness to the ultimate loss of all. It is the disguise of the flesh as having made itself spiritual, to the quenching of the Spirit of God. In pursuing for themselves the thing spoken by God to His heavenly offspring, “Ye are gods” (Ps 82), they will never arrive at it and they will die like all men. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”” (Rom 9:32-33)

The lie of the serpent has never changed. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Then do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of patience, that having done the will of God you may obtain the promise.
“For, yet a very little and the One coming will come, and will not delay. But the just shall live by faith; and if he draws back, My soul is not pleased in him.”
But we are not of those withdrawing to destruction, but of faith, to the preservation of the soul.
Hebrews 10:35-39

Keep the faith.
Run the race.
Hold fast in the gospel.

But, brothers, I reveal to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, by which you also are being kept safe, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you in the first place what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised the third day, according to the scriptures…
1 Corinthians 15:1-4

And we who are kept safe by holding fast to this gospel do not believe in vain; not because of our works, but because HE is risen.

But if Christ has not been raised, your faith is foolish; and you are still in your sins. And then those that fell asleep in Christ were lost. If we only have hope in Christ in this life, we are of all men most miserable. But now Christ has been raised from the dead; He became the firstfruit of those having fallen asleep. For since death is through man, also through a Man is a resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:17-22

In the flesh dwells no good thing. But in HIM we are no longer in our sins. It is the unbelieving who die in their sins. But the new creature cannot sin for he is born of God, and God’s seed abides in him. It is for a good witness and great reward unto God’s glory that we must walk by faith after the Spirit, and not by sight after the flesh. For “faith is the substantiation of things having been hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen. For by THIS the elders obtained WITNESS.” (Heb 11:1-2, LITV)

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed
beginning and ending IN faith, as it is written,
“The one who by faith is righteous shall LIVE.”