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      Charles Grandison Finney: Heretic?

      Tuesday, September 25, 2007




      (The following is from the blog, Pheonix Preacher.)



      Just for the record…I believe that Charles Finney was a heretic along the lines of a Rutherford, Russell, or Smith, the founders of the Jehovahs Witnesses and Mormonism.



      While he should be condemned as a heretic for many of his aberrant doctrines, the most damnable one he espoused was the denial of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross.
      The fact that he is held up as anything other than an apostate is testimony to the shallowness and ignorance of sound doctrine in the church today.




      Let's do a quick synopsis of his heresies in hopes that it will provoke you to further study.


      1. He was a "Pelagian".
      This term refers to a man, Pelagias, who denied original sin or the doctrine that men are born with a sin nature. The matter was debated vigorously by Pelagias and Augustine and the doctrine was declared heretical in the 5th century.


      Here is a good definition of the heresy.


      "It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as "setting a good example" for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, since humanity is no longer in need of any of God's graces beyond the creation of will,[1] Jesus' sacrifice is devoid of its redemptive quality."

      - Wikipedia


      What sayeth the Scriptures?


      "And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”(Romans 5:16-19 ESV)



      Because Adam only set a "bad example", Christ death was only for the purpose of setting a "good example".


      In other words, He died for no one, His death bought the salvation of no one, and His blood was of no effect.


      I shudder to even write such heinous blasphemy.



      Michael Horton commented on Finney's doctrine:


      The purpose of that death was to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted … If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless" (p.209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to,’ be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the "moral influence" theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which "assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement … It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one" (p.217).

      3. He denied justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
      Horton again:

      "The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, "to declare righteous," rather than "to make righteous") was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else’s righteousness (i.e., Christ’s) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing.


      This declaration was to be pronounced at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end. The key words in the evangelical doctrine are "forensic" (legal) and "imputation" (crediting one’s account, as opposed to the idea of "infusion" of a righteousness within a person’s soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares,


      "But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd… As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners … As has already been said, 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."



      To this, Finney replies: "The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ’s righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us … it was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf " This "representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner’s justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many" (pp.320-2).



      The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is "the antinomian view," Finney asserts. "We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject." (pp.326-7)."


      According to Finney, man could only save himself by being intellectually convinced that sin was sin and then deciding to live a completely pure and holy life.

      Finney not only believed that perfection was possible, but that man was damned by any sin following conversion and must be "saved' yet again by his own works.

      "By sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended:(1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and His service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God. (2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues. If he falls from his first love into the spirit of self-pleasing, he falls again into bondage to sin and to the law, is condemned, and must repent and do his "first work," must turn to Christ, and renew his faith and love, as a condition of his salvation. . . . Perseverance in faith and obedience, or in consecration to God, is also an unalterable condition of justification, or of pardon and acceptance with God. By this language in this connection, you will of course understand me to mean, that perseverance in faith and obedience is a condition, not of present, but of final or ultimate acceptance and salvation [Systematic Theology, 368-69]."


      To summarize…

      Finney believed that mans will was not tainted by the Fall and thus is able to make choices to both serve God and be saved by his own righteous works. He believed that Christ paid for no ones sins on the cross, bought no one with His blood, but merely set a noble example to follow.
      He denied the imputation of Christ's righteousness as unnecessary as man could be righteous on his own. The altar call was nothing more than getting a person to decide to act right, not a supernatural act of regeneration of the soul. Man was only secure as his last act of righteousness and his only security was in his own good works.


      What sayeth the Scriptures?


      "as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.””(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)


      “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”(Romans 3:23-25 ESV)


      “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”(Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV)


      “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”(Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)


      “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”(Romans 4:22-25 ESV)


      “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 ESV)


      “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 8:1 ESV)


      “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
      (Romans 8:29-39 ESV)


      Friends, the Scriptures shout and call Finney a liar from Genesis to Revelation. We were all haters of God, born with a sin nature. Our Lord gave His life for our sins on the cross, He paid the penalty for our sin and appeased the wrath of God that was upon us. His righteousness was credited to us when we put our faith in Him and He has promised never to take away what He has given. He was not just our example, but our Savior who came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. I feel like preaching! ;-)
      I digress…

      Today Finneys heresies about the nature of man and the nature of the atonement have spawned a host of heresies and aberrations from their unholy roots.


      You tell me…how can any man who holds to these doctrines be a hero to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ?

      2 comments:

      Anonymous said...

      There is a great difference between Finney and Lane. The first made history by bringing millions to the knowledge of Christ, the second wrote history by criticizing what he couldn't understand. No wonder nobody left a comment about this article.
      However, dear Lane, let me ask you two things: 1-Will God judge both of you (Finney & Lane) on the basis of your doctrines or the fruits of your lives? 2-Like Daniel 11:32 said, Finney proved he knew God by living a life of great exploits. Where are Yours?

      May God help you Lane? May God help you?

      josiahdujok@yahoo.fr

      Lane Chaplin said...

      Thanks for your questions:

      God will judge us based upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. I know Finney didn't believe in substitutionary atonement, but he should have. Otherwise, his salvation wouldn't be in question.

      Also, there is another difference between Finney and I you forgot: Finney might be in hell if he didn't repent before he died (there is evidence that he did repent before he died, but I realize that your type regard that as the "black sheep" of Finneyism). I, on the other hand, have trusted in Christ as my substitute so I have eternal assurance that He is my savior, and I don't need to save myself.

      Even your comment shows the pragmatism and man centered praise seeking Finneyism breeds. I'm not even sure why you ask me if God will judge me on my works then ask me if I'll let God help me. Finneyism doesn't need God or grace as it is just ethics with a hat tip to Jesus.

      I'll pray for your soul as God is the only one who can make you realize that it is not of your works that you are saved, but by His grace alone. Take care.

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