Charles Finney — Pelagian Heretic

I listen to R.C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind radio broadcasts regularly via MP3 podcasts. I started listening last week to the the excellent series called God Alone on the five solas of the Reformation. He starts off in the talk Grace Alone (Part 2) by saying that Pelagianism, as discussed in Grace Alone (Part 1), periodically rears it’s head in the church and that one of the manifestations of this was in the 19th century in Charles Finney’s teaching. He said that Charles Finney in his Systematic Theology “denies the Fall, denies original sin, categorically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone” (and he said most evangelicals don’t believe him when he says this, even though it is so clearly stated in Finney’s writings).

Amazing stuff, here is someone generally honoured in many evangelical circles, who is a serious heretic. I have since found corroboration of these statements via online readings from his Systematic Theology:

See Lecture XIV, the answer to

“Objection. Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?” and he says “The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true.”

And in Lecture XV he says

“But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed. That he cannot be justified by the law, while there is a particle of sin in him, is too plain to need proof. But can he be pardoned and accepted, and then justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.”

See his muddle of justification in Lecture 56.

He believes in some kind of funny atonement which is a public justice spectacle (not substitutionary atonement) so as to keep the universe from boiling over in revolt (so much for the sovereignty of God), see Lecture 35

“7. The value of the atonement may be estimated, by considering the fact, that it provides for the pardon of sin, in a way that forbids the hope of impunity in any other case. This, the good of the universe imperiously demanded. If sin is to be forgiven at all under the government of God it should be known to be forgiven upon principles that will by no means encourage rebellion, or hold out the least hope of impunity, should rebellion break out in any other part of the universe.”

and this of course means the atonement is really political showmanship, not an effectual payment of sin debts

“10. It is objected that, if the atonement was not a payment of the debt of sinners, but general in its nature, as we have mentioned, it secures the salvation of no one. It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one; but the promise and oath of God, that Christ shall have a seed to serve him, provide that security. ”

And there is nothing original about sin according Mr Finney… Lecture 38

Moral depravity is sin. Sin is violation of moral law. We have seen that sin must consist in choice, in the choice of self indulgence or self-gratification as an end.
5. Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed and fallen state of nature; for this is physical and not moral depravity.

….

Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in, nor imply a sinful nature, in the sense that the substance of the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness. It is not an involuntary sinfulness. Moral depravity, as I use the term, consists in selfishness; in a state of voluntary committal of the will to self-gratification.

and in order to be saved you just gotta make up your mind…

It therefore follows, that while sinners are selfish, or unregenerate, it is impossible for them to put forth a holy volition.
They are under the necessity of first changing their hearts, or their choice of an end, before they can put forth any volitions to secure any other than a selfish end. And this is plainly the everywhere assumed philosophy of the Bible. That uniformly represents the unregenerate as totally depraved, and calls upon them to repent, to make to themselves a new heart, and never admits directly, or by way of implication, that they can do anything good or acceptable to God, while in the exercise of a wicked or selfish heart.

So I guess Jesus must have meant (John 6:44) that no-one can come to him unless… uh, they decide to come? They want to? Goodness me, what rot. I really don’t think that Mr Finney would have had a very warm reception with Mr Whitefield and Mr Edwards (the fathers of the First Great Awakening) with whom his is very undeservingly lumped together as the father of the Second Great Awakening. I think that Mr Finney might have been chased off before finishing his first beer… Oh, of course, that zealously temperate pelagian wouldn’t have lifted a glass with these brothers.

Many thanks to

for providing some references which I could verify with online sources of Finney’s books.

About Anthony Caetano

Christian husband & father. Also an IT person but that doesn't come into this site much at all. Not on facebook or twitter, probably never will be. You can email me at my firstname at this domain.
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One Response to Charles Finney — Pelagian Heretic

  1. Pingback: Good read: Willing to Believe

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