Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Did John Wesley hold to the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness? John Piper says "Yes".

Here is an excerpt from Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness? by popular Calvinist pastor John Piper (the full book is available for free from the Desiring God website here), pages 35-36 & 37-38, bold mine:
The imputed righteousness of Christ has been a great cause of joyful worship over the centuries and has informed many hymns and worship songs. The theme has cut across Calvinist-Arminian, Lutheran-Reformed, and Baptist-Presbyterian divides. As we look at some examples of hymns and worship songs, I admit that it is possible to put a different, newer meaning on some of these words, but they were not written with the newer meaning, and, as a people, we would be dishonest to treat them as if they carried the new meaning.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
We may take John Wesley for an example to support our claim that these songs are built on the historic understanding of Christ’s imputed righteousness, rather than on more recent reinterpretations. Wesley himself was passionate about this doctrine, and probably more so than anywhere else in his sermon titled “The Lord Our Righteousness” (1765). He is defending himself against attacks that he did not believe this doctrine. Part of his defense is to refer to the hymns he has published. He translated Nicolaus L. Von Zinzendorf’s hymn “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” and commented on it and the others he had published like this:
The Hymns . . . republished several times, (a clear testimony that my judgment was still the same,) speak full to the same purpose [of my belief in the imputed righteousness of Christ]. . . . Take one for all—
Jesu, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress: ’Midst flaming worlds in these array’d, With joy shall I lift up my head.
“The whole hymn,” he says, “expresses the same sentiment, from the beginning to the end.” He goes on in this sermon to make clear what his hymns and essays mean: “To all believers the righteousness of Christ is imputed; to unbelievers it is not.” [Note 15] 
From these few examples, we can see that the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has not been experienced as marginal or minor in the worship of Christ. It has been explosive with revival power, personal comfort, and deep, biblically-rooted joy in worship.

At footnote 15, on page 38, Dr Piper adds (bold mine):
John Wesley’s Sermons, Sermon #20, “The Lord Our Righteousness” (text from 1872 edition), preached at the Chapel in West-Street, Seven Dials, on Sunday, November 24, 1765. This quote was copied from, accessed on 3-2-02. Then, to make things as clear as possible, he quotes from his own Treatise on Justification published a year earlier (1764): “If we take the phrase of imputing Christ’s righteousness, for the bestowing (as it were) the righteousness of Christ, including his obedience, as well passive as active, in the return of it, that is, in the privileges, blessings, and benefits purchased it; so a believer may be said to be justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed. The meaning is, God justifies the believer for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, and not for any righteousness of his own.” Further, “. . . the righteousness of Christ, both his active and passive righteousness, is the meritorious cause of our justification, and has procured for us at God’s hand, that, upon our believing, we should be accounted righteous by him.” Wesley’s view developed over the years on this issue, but he seems to have landed in the traditional Protestant position on imputation in the latter half of his ministry, as evidenced by the sermon “The Lord Our Righteousness” (cited above) and “The Wedding Garment” (1790). For a chronological account of Wesley’s view on this, see Ted M. Dorman, “Forgiveness of Past Sins: John Wesley on Justification, A Case Study Approach,” Pro Ecclesia X/3 (Summer 2001), pp. 275-294. See also Thomas J. Nettles, “John Welsey’s Contention with Calvinism: Interactions Then and Now,” in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, Vol. 2., eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), pp. 308-309.

Later still, Dr Piper writes, “John Wesley made the doctrine more and more central to his ministry over time” (p 43, note 4), and on page 123, at note 6:
John Wesley observed, “But as the active and passive righteousness of Christ were never, in fact, separated from each other, so we never need separate them at all, either in speaking or even in thinking. And it is with regard to both these conjointly that Jesus is called ‘the Lord our righteousness.’” John Wesley’s Sermons, Sermon #20, “The Lord Our Righteousness,” preached at the Chapel in West-Street, Seven Dials, on Sunday, November 24, 1765

Saturday, August 27, 2016

From Cage-stage to "Arminian Calvinist" or "Calvinistic Arminian": Charles Spurgeon's theological journey

On Twitter, I recently got into an exchange with someone who posted Spurgeon's troubling statement
I do not serve the god of the Arminians at all! I have nothing to do with him and I do not bow down before the Baal they have set up! He is not my god, nor shall he ever be! I fear him not, nor tremble at his presence. A mutable god may be the god for the Arminian—he is not the god for me.
In looking up the source, I noticed the year this sermon was preached: 1858, the same summer that Spurgeon turned 24 years old.  At this point, he had been preaching for just 4 or 5 years, and had been a Christian for only 8 years.

Author Dave Hunt has noted, “especially in his later years, Spurgeon often made statements that were in direct conflict with Calvinism.” (What Love Is This?, p 38).  When I began to look at which year each of his other sermons were preached, I noticed this trend holds true: 

Any sermon from the 1850s shows Spurgeon as hostile towards Arminians, especially on the doctrine of perseverance. 

But by 1860, someone had apparently given him a translation of Arminius' works (from which he quotes), and as a result, instead of attacking Arminians we find Spurgeon defending Arminians from the charge that we deny Total Depravity.

By 1862, when Spurgeon was 28 years old, we find him saying that there is truth in both Calvinism and Arminianism, and that we should not go to either extreme (bold mine):
That "salvation is of the Lord" is as plainly revealed in Scripture as anything that we see in nature! And that destruction is of man, is equally plain, both from the nature of things and from the teaching of Scripture! Hold the two Truths of God—do not try to run to the extreme, either of the Hyper-Calvinist or of the ultra-Arminian. There is some truth in Calvinism and some in Arminianism, and he who would hold the whole Truth of God must neither be cramped by the one system nor bound by the other, but take Truth wherever he can find it in the Bible—and leave it to the God of Truth to show him, when he gets into another world, anything that is beyond his comprehension now.

By the time Spurgeon is 42 (in 1876), he would say that Calvinism is wrong on some points when compared with Arminianism (bold mine): 
There has long been a great doctrinal discussion between the Calvinists and the Arminians upon many important points. I am myself persuaded that the Calvinist alone is right upon some points, and the Arminian alone is right upon others. There is a great deal of truth in the positive side of both systems, and a great deal of error in the negative side of both. If I was asked, "Why is a man damned?" I should answer as an Arminian answers, "He destroys himself." I should not dare to lay man's ruin at the door of divine sovereignty. On the other hand, if I were asked, "Why is a man saved?" I could only give the Calvinistic answer, "He is saved through the sovereign grace of God, and not at all of himself." I should not dream of ascribing the man's salvation in any measure to himself. I have not found, as a matter of fact, that any Christian people care seriously to quarrel with a ministry which contains these two truths in fair proportions. I find them kicking at the inferences which are supposed to follow from one or the other of them, and sometimes needlessly crying to have them "reconciled;" but the two truths together, as a rule, commend themselves to the conscience, and I feel sure that if I could bring them both forward this morning with equal clearness I should win the assent of most Christian men.

Finally, by 1881, when Spurgeon is now 47 years old, he says that he has been called "an Arminian Calvinist or a Calvinistic Arminian" and he does not seem to mind either label:
What a host of revised versions we have! Everybody has one of his own. Certain texts which will not fit into our system must be planed and cut down. Have you ever seen the hard work that some Brethren have to shape a Scripture to their mind? One text is not Calvinistic, it looks rather Arminian—of course it cannot be so and, therefore, they twist and tug to get it right. As for our Arminian Brethren, it is wonderful to see how they hammer away at the 9th Chapter of Romans—steam-hammers and screw-jacks are nothing to their appliances for getting rid of Election from that chapter! We have all been guilty of racking Scripture, more or less, and it will be well to have done with the evil, forever! We had far better be inconsistent with ourselves than with the Inspired Word of God. 
I have been called an Arminian Calvinist or a Calvinistic Arminian and I am quite content so long as I can keep close to my Bible. I desire to preach what I find in this Book whether I find it in anybody else's book or not.

Related Posts:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Great Quotes: Charles Spurgeon, "Arminius speaks right well upon this point. I quote his words"

From Charles Spurgeon’s 1860 sermon on John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing" (bold mine):

And now, having thus sought to explain the text in regard to the Christian, let me try to support it. I would support it, first of all, by the common consent of all Believers in all ages. With the exception of ancient Pelagians and their modern off-spring, I do not know that the Church has afforded any instance of any professors who have doubted the inability of man apart from God the Holy Spirit. Our confessions of faith are nearly unanimous upon this point. But I hear someone say—"Do not the Arminians believe that there is natural strength in man by which he can do something?" No, my Brothers and Sisters, the true Arminian can believe no such thing! Arminius speaks right well upon this point. I quote his words, as I have them in a translation—
"It is impossible for free will, without Grace, to begin or perfect any true or spiritual good. I say, the Grace of Christ, which pertains to regeneration is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is that which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will, which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the affections, and leads the will to execute good thoughts and good desires. It goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, works in us to will, and works with us that we may not will in vain. It averts temptations, stands by and aids us in temptations, supports us against the flesh, the world, and Satan; and in the conflict, it grants us to enjoy the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and fallen; it establishes them and endues them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. It begins, promotes, perfects and consummates salvation. I confess that the mind of the natural and carnal man is darkened, his affections are depraved, his will is refractory, and that the man is dead in sin."

Richard Watson, who among modern Arminians is considered to be a standard divine, especially in the Wesleyan denomination, is equally clear upon this point. He fully admits that, "The sin of Adam introduced into his nature such a radical impotence and depravity, that it is impossible for his descendants to make any voluntary effort (of themselves) towards piety and virtue," and then he quotes with warm approval, an expression of Calvin's, in which Calvin says that, "Man is so totally overwhelmed, as with a deluge, that no part is free from sin, and therefore, whatever proceeds from him is accounted sin." It is very satisfactory to have these testimonies to the common Doctrine of the Church. I know that some Arminians are not so sound, even as Arminius or Richard Watson; I know that some of them do not understand any creed at all, not even their own, for in all denominations there are men so ignorant of all theology that they will venture upon any assertion whatever, claiming to be Arminian, or Calvinistic, without knowing what either Calvin or Arminius taught! Arminians would be much better, even if they were as good as Arminius! Much as he swerved from the faith in some respects [...] but in many points would be as stern and unflinching a defender of the faith as John Calvin, himself!

Related Posts:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Does a Wesleyan view of grace lead to a more missional worldview?

In his “Framework for Missional Christianity” series, Missional leader Alan Hirsch writes (bold mine):
One of the most basic assumptions of the incarnational missionary is to assume God is already involved in every person’s life and is calling them to himself through his Son. Our mindset should not be the prevalent one of taking God with us wherever we might go. Instead, our mindset should be that we join God in His mission.

This means that the missionary God has been active a long time in a person’s life. Our primary job is to try to see where and how God has been working and to partner with him in bringing people to redemption in Jesus.
This is basically the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace.

Of course, there is no need to call it Wesleyan. Nor is it unique to John Wesley. But unfortunately, this is not an assumption that all Christians share.[1]

How does Wesleyan Theology change our worldview?

I have written before that compared with Calvinism, I have found that Arminianism/Wesleyanism tends towards a more missional and evangelism-focused worldview.

While Calvinism tends towards a deterministic worldview, leading to what I and others have called a “theology of resignation”, Arminian theology encourages us to wear a “Gospel-lens” over all of our interactions, and thereby becomes a "theology of practice".[2]

As Arminian blogger William Birch points out:
Arminianism, and especially Wesleyan-Arminianism, is missional in nature.  […] Arminianism very naturally gives expression to missionary endeavors, as God loves each and every person, and desires, according to Scripture, the salvation of each and every person. This biblical truth motivates the believer to witness to her or his faith in Christ toward the salvation of others. Evangelism is the heart of God and of Arminian theology.
United Methodist Pastor Omar Rikabi likewise has written,the gospel doesn’t discount anyone from grace and salvation […] If we believe in prevenient grace—that Jesus is pursuing every person—we can only know what he’s up to by entering into their story through holy love.

Arminianism, then, drives us, everyday and with every part of our lives, to engage those around us with the Gospel, knowing that God is already seeking them and we are cooperating in His pursuit.

What about Calvinism’s worldview?

Calvinist theologian Wayne Grudem, in his popular Systematic Theology, writes that Calvinism should encourage evangelism since it “guarantee[s] that there will be some success” (p 674):
Election is Paul’s guarantee that there will be some success for his evangelism, for he knows that some of the people he speaks to will be the elect, and they will believe the gospel and be saved. It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, “I guarantee that you will catch some fish – they are hungry and waiting.”
But does this actually work out in practice? In my estimation, this turns evangelism into a game: to a Calvinist’s mind, evangelism never really “snatch[es] them out of the fire” of judgment (Jude 23), since only those elected from eternity will respond, and those same will respond eventually to God’s irresistible grace/effectual call regardless. At best the Calvinist can take comfort in that they were the means God used to save the elect.  However, with this view, it is understandable why there is little real motivation for evangelism, especially in the face of persecution.  If it is only a game, maybe some might opt to play, but most seem content to pass.

What about those great gospel preachers Whitefield and Spurgeon?

As I’ve written before, both of these men were accused by the other Calvinists in their day of being “Arminian”-ish.

Leading Calvinist John Piper writes that to the Calvinist Baptists, “Whitefield’s Calvinism was suspect, to say the least, because of the kind of evangelistic preaching he did. The Particular Baptists spoke derisively of Whitefield’s ‘Arminian dialect.’”

Of Spurgeon, Baptist historian AC Underwood wrote (A History of English Baptists):

His sermon on “Compel them to come in” was criticized as Arminian and unsound. To his critics he replied: “My Master set His seal on that message. I never preached a sermon by which so many souls were won to God.... If it be thought an evil thing to bid the sinner lay hold of eternal life, I will yet be more evil in this respect and herein imitate my Lord and His apostles.”
Given these accusations from their contemporaries, it is obvious that Spurgeon and Whitefield were the exceptions to Calvinism’s practice of evangelism, rather than any sort of rule.

[1] While most Calvinists hold to "common grace", that is, grace common to all, this is not understood to have any salvific purpose.  As leading Calvinist scholar Tom Schreiner has written, "The Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace differs from the Calvinistic conception of common grace in one important area. In the Calvinistic scheme common grace does not and cannot lead to salvation. It functions to restrain evil in the world but does not lead unbelievers to faith. For Wesleyans, prevenient grace may lead one to salvation."; see also: Ben Witherington, “The Reformed View of Regeneration vs. the Wesleyan Theology of Prevenient Grace”.

[2] For more on Wesleyanism vs Calvinism in practice, I recommend: Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice (Find in a library). You can read a review from Seedbed here, and one from Dr Olson here. There is also a short article online by the author here.

More resources:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dr David Allen on the Double Payment argument's "Faulty View of Imputation"

I was re-reading Charles Spurgeon’s famous sermon “A defense of Calvinism” and found that he makes the same old argument against unlimited atonement that we so often hear--the “double payment” argument--that, as Spurgeon says:
To think that my Savior died for men who were, or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain!  [...] that God, having first punished the substitute, afterwards punished the sinners, seems to conflict with all my ideas of divine justice; that Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity [...]

In his review of Chapter 18 of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, Dr David Allen takes on the double payment argument and convincingly shows that this view fails to understand the true nature of atonement and imputation; it wrongly sees the atonement as a commercial transaction wherein “so much is owed and so much is paid”.

Dr Allen writes, in part:

Like Owen, Williams appears to be operating from a sort of quantitative transference view of imputation: specific guilt for specific sins of the elect alone is laid on Christ. But this is problematic.
While our sins are imputed to Christ, before our conversion we remain under the wrath of God as Paul states in Eph. 2:1-3. As Dabney says, God holds the unbelieving elect subject to wrath until they believe. Williams mentions this problem (486) but fails to address this objection by Dabney and others that the living unbelieving elect are under the wrath of God.
Williams also fails to address how God can justly postpone the grant of faith to the people for whom Christ died, if Christ literally “purchased” faith for them. Hodge says,
“The moment the debt is paid the debtor is free, and that completely. No delay can be admitted, and no conditions can be attached to his deliverance.”
Owen & Williams’ Faulty View of Imputation.
Would Owen consider the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers as the transference of so many acts of law-keeping? It would seem not. Are believers credited with specific acts of righteousness on Christ’s part? No, we are credited with a quality of righteousness, or treated as though we had obeyed God’s law categorically by virtue of our union with Christ. All of Christ’s acts of obedience fall under the somewhat abstract class or moral category of “righteousness.”
Just as believers are not imputed with something like so many particular acts of righteousness but rather with righteousness categorically, so also Christ was not imputed with all the particular sinful acts of some people, like so many “sin-bits,” but rather with sin in a comprehensive way. He was treated as though he were sinful, or categorically guilty of the sin of the whole human race.
Owen, and it would seem Williams as well, has a faulty notion of imputation. The truth is, Christ died one death that all sinners deserve under the law. In paying the penalty of what one sinner deserves, he paid the penalty of what every sinner deserves. He suffered the curse of the law as defined by the law. Owen’s double payment and trilemma arguments undermine the true meaning of imputation and operate on the assumption of the transference of specific sins.
Owen’s trilemma necessarily operates on the assumption that there was a quantitative imputation of sins to Christ. The biblical idea of imputation does not work that way, and Reformed people do not even think of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers in that quantitative way.
Charles Hodge, in contrast, has retained the proper understanding of imputation:
What was suitable for one was suitable for all. The righteousness of Christ, the merit of his obedience and death, is needed for justification by each individual of our race, and therefore is needed by all. It is no more appropriate to one man than to another. Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant under which all men were placed. He rendered the obedience required of all, and suffered the penalty which all had incurred; and therefore his work is equally suited to all.
Williams is at odds with Hodge. 

You can read the full review here. The full list of chapter-by-chapter reviews is here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Thoughts on the theology of Charles Finney

AW Tozer refers to him approvingly time and again in his writings, for example:

“Many of the great evangelists who have touched the world for God, including such men as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney, have declared that those who insist on Christianity being made 'too easy' are betraying the Church.” (link)

“They were rightly looked upon as leaders, but they were all servants of God, even as you and I are. Luther sowed. Wesley watered. Finney reaped-but they were only servants of the living God.” (link)

“God used Finney to get people thinking straight about religion. He may not have been correct in all his conclusions, but he did remove the doctrinal stalemates and start the people moving toward God. He placed before his hearers a moral either/or, so they could always know just where they stood. The inner confusion caused by hidden contradictions was absent from his preaching. We could use another Finney today.” (link)

That Tozer spoke so highly of Finney surprised me because of the accusations that often come from Calvinists and Arminians alike: that Finney was a “semi-pelagian” or worse. So I began to look into his writings.

In this post I will look at:

  1. Was Finney a "Semi-Pelagian"? Did he deny the need of prevenient grace?
  2. Did Finney deny imputed righteousness? Did he affirm it in any sense?
  3. Did Finney deny Justification by faith? Did he hold to justification by works?

Was Finney a "semi-Pelagian"? Did he deny the need of prevenient grace?

As a Calvinist, describing total depravity and the sin nature, we would use the illustration of a dog and a bone. We would say, “If you put a bone in front of a dog, the dog has the ability to refuse the bone but we all know he will gobble it up, because that is the dog’s nature. In the same way, we know that because of our sin nature, noone will ever believe the gospel unless the Holy Spirit first changes their nature.” (This is the distinction between natural ability vs moral ability).

Charles Finney has been accused of being a semi-pelagian, yet in his Systematic Theology, he seems to have something like the distinction in the above illustration in mind. Under the heading “To show that the doctrine of a gracious ability, as held by those who maintain it, is an absurdity” he begins:

The question is not whether, as a matter of fact, men ever do obey God without the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. I hold that they do not. So the fact of the Holy Spirit's gracious influence being exerted in every case of human obedience, is not a question in debate between those who maintain, and those who deny the doctrine of gracious ability, in the sense above explained. The question in debate is not whether men do, in any case, use the powers of nature in the manner that God requires, without the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, but whether they are naturally able so to use them. Is the fact that they never do so use them without a gracious divine influence, to be ascribed to absolute inability, or to the fact that, from the beginning, they universally and voluntarily consecrate their powers to the gratification of self, and that therefore they will not, unless they are divinely persuaded, by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, in any case turn and consecrate their powers to the service of God?

Finney explains that unless men are able to obey, they cannot be held accountable for disobeying, just as we could never be held accountable for failing to fly. On the other hand, he never says that man will obey apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit, but explicitly states that man will not. (I think this is similar, if not the same, as Jonathan Edwards distinction between moral inability and natural inability; see, for example, the last section of John Piper's article here under the heading "why this clarification matters").

Also keep in mind that Finney was Presbyterian, and writing against those who held to a determinism that said men must be regenerated before they could believe. He writes (bold mine):
When I entered the ministry, I found the persuasion of an absolute inability on the part of sinners to repent and believe the gospel almost universal. When I urged sinners and professors of religion to do their duty without delay, I frequently met with stern opposition from sinners, professors of religion, and ministers. They desired me to say to sinners, that they could not repent, and that they must wait God's time, that is, for God to help them. [...] The church was almost universally settled down in the belief of a physical moral depravity, and, of course, in a belief in the necessity of a physical regeneration, and also of course in the belief, that sinners must wait to be regenerated by divine power while they were passive.

Finney concludes the section:
Let it not be said then, that we deny the grace of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, nor that we deny the reality and necessity of the influences of the Holy Spirit to convert and sanctify the soul, nor that this influence is a gracious one; for all these we most strenuously maintain. But I maintain this upon the ground, that men are able to do their duty, and that the difficulty does not lie in a proper inability, but in a voluntary selfishness, in an unwillingness to obey the blessed gospel. I say again, that I reject the dogma of a gracious ability, as I understand its abettors to hold it, not because I deny, but solely because it denies the grace of the gospel. The denial of ability is really a denial of the possibility of grace in the affair of man's salvation. I admit the ability of man, and hold that he is able, but utterly unwilling, to obey God. Therefore I consistently hold, that all the influences exerted by God to make him willing, are of free grace abounding through Christ Jesus.

Moreover, his sermon “On Quenching the Spirit” shows how concerned he was with unbelievers resisting the Holy Spirit.  This, I think, explains why he sought to remove any obstacles to belief. As he writes, “The solemn truth is that the Spirit is most easily quenched. There is no moral work of His that cannot be resisted. An immense responsibility pertains to revivals. There is always fearful danger lest the Spirit should be resisted.

Persons often are not aware what is going on in their minds when they are quenching the Spirit of God. Duty is presented and pressed upon them, but they do not realize that this is really the work of the Spirit of God. They are not aware of the present voice of the Lord to their hearts, nor do they see that this solemn impression of the truth is nothing other than the effect of the Holy Ghost on their minds.

(One Arminian author writes that for Finney, “there is no enablement as in historic orthodoxy, but rather mere persuasion”, link, however if, as Finney held, noone will respond apart from this “persuasion”, then I am not sure what the distinction here is. Even Reformed Arminian author Dr Robert Picirilli talks about prevenient grace as “persuasion”, as does Arminius himself. Dr Picirili writes:
[T]he Word is the instrument, the means used by the Spirit as a basis for the conviction, the persuasion, the enabling.  This observation accords with the concept of the power of the Word of God spoken of everywhere in the Scriptures, as in Hebrews 4:12 for example.  Arminius’ view on this is clear when, speaking of the persuasion involved in this pre-regenerating grace, he says, "This is effected by the word of God. But persuasion is effected, externally by the preaching of the word, internally by the operation, or rather the co-operation, of the Holy Spirit, tending to this result, that the word may be understood and apprehended by true faith". [Grace, Faith, Free Will, page 158].)

Did Finney deny imputed righteousness? Did he affirm it in any sense?

Another accusation I have heard is that Finney denied imputed righteousness, and even accusations that he denied substitution! While he held to governmental theory of the atonement (as a side note, Roger Olson has noted that both John Piper and Jonathan Edwards also “highlight” the governmental “dimension of the atonement” throughout their writings, link), Finney does not deny substitution (governmental theory is a form of substitutionary theory, link and link), and while he does deny the traditional Reformed view of imputed righteousness, he admits, “there is a sense in which the righteousness of Christ may be said to be imputed to us”. Here is an excerpt from his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Substitution:

We see in what sense the saints are saved by the righteousness of Christ. Much has always been said by Old School divines about imputation. I do not mean now just what they do by this term, but there is a sense in which the righteousness of Christ may be said to be imputed to us. I have already explained what this sense is. Jesus Christ was treated as if He were a sinner, that we for his sake might be treated as if we were righteous. He deserved no sufferings--we deserved them all. They were not endured for his sake, but for ours. He stood before God to be treated as sinful; we as a result, stand before God and are treated as righteous. As He represented the sins of a lost race, so we represent the righteousness of a spotless Savior.
7. Our own personal obedience has no part in the matter of our justification, not even any obedience rendered after conversion. After conversion we are pious and to some extent holy; but this is not taken into account as a ground of our justification.

(1.) Because when once condemned, no subsequent obedience can procure our acceptance on legal grounds. It is perfectly obvious that no obedience performed after sin and condemnation, can in any way atone for the previous sin.

(2.) Our obedience is not our own in such a sense that we can be justified by it according to law. It should be considered that our obedience after conversion is not under law--that is, not a system of mere law, but is under grace--it being all performed in consequence of Christ's gracious work within us, and not wrought out under purely legal influences. We are therefore not to suppose that we do not need Christ after once being converted and pardoned. No idea can be more false and ruinous than this. For the holiness of Christians after conversion is the result of Christ's Spirit working in them and is in this sense a gracious righteousness, and hence can never come into the account as if it were a legal righteousness, so as to justify men on merely legal grounds. We owe to the grace of Christ our entire salvation, and are to be rewarded, not for our own righteousness, but on the ground that we represent the righteousness of God.

8. We see how much we are indebted to Christ for our salvation. He has been set forth as a propitiation for sin, and in him an atonement was made. He stood in our stead where we must else have stood as condemned and quailing rebels; he suffered in his own person that awful manifestation of divine displeasure which would else have been made in our destruction in order to render it possible for God to be just to his government and good to all his subjects and yet pardon sinners. Christ has done all this for us, and now does it well become us to say--in the inmost soul--
"Had I ten thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine."
9. We can see how great the future glory of the saints must be. We have been looking at the great agony and grief endured by Jesus Christ. Look now in the other direction at the great glory resulting from our being made the righteousness of God in him.

Did Finney deny Justification by faith? Did he hold to justification by works?

Finally, I have also heard the accusation that Finney denied justification by faith.  As you can see from the quotes I have already provided, this is clearly not the case. But for greater certainty, in his sermon “Justification by faith”, Finney says:

When we say that men are justified by faith and holiness, we do not mean that they are accepted on the ground of law, but that they are treated as if they were righteous, on account of their faith and works of faith. This is the method which God takes, in justifying a sinner. Not that faith is the foundation of justification. The foundation is in Christ. But this is the manner in which sinners are pardoned, and accepted, and justified, that if they repent, believe, and become holy, their past sins shall be forgiven, for the sake of Christ.

Here it will be seen how justification under the gospel differs from justification under the law. Legal justification is a declaration of actual innocence and freedom from blame. Gospel justification is pardon and acceptance, as if he was righteous, but on other grounds than his own obedience. When the apostle says, "By deeds of law shall no flesh be justified," he uses justification as a lawyer, in a strictly legal sense. But when he speaks of justification by faith, he speaks not of legal justification, but of a person's being treated as if he were righteous.

Later he seems to teach that apostasy is impossible for a true believer:

Gospel justification differs from legal justification, in this respect: If the law justifies an individual, it holds no longer than he remains innocent. As soon as he transgresses once, his former justification is of no more avail. But when the gospel justifies a sinner, it is not so; but "if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." A new relation is now constituted, entirely peculiar. The sinner is now brought out from under the covenant of works, and placed under the covenant of grace. He no longer retains God's favor by the tenure of absolute and sinless obedience. If he sins, now, he is not thrust back again under the law, but receives the benefit of the new covenant. If he is justified by faith; and so made a child of God, he receives the treatment of a child, and is corrected, and chastised, and humbled, and brought back again. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." The meaning of that is not, that God calls and saves the sinner without his repenting, but that God never changes his mind when once he undertakes the salvation of a soul.

I know this is thought by some to be very dangerous doctrine, to teach that believers are perpetually justified--because, say they, it will embolden men to sin. Indeed! To tell a man that has truly repented of sin, and heartily renounced sin, and sincerely desires to be free from sin, that God will help him and certainly give him the victory over sin, will embolden him to commit sin! Strange logic that! If this doctrine emboldens any man to commit sin, it only shows that he never did repent; that he never hated sin, and never loved God for his own sake, but only feigned repentance, and if he loved God it was only a selfish love, because he thought God was going to do him a favor. If he truly hated sin, the consideration that notwithstanding all his unworthiness God had received him as a child, and would give him a child's treatment, is the very thing to break him down and melt his heart in the most godly sorrow. O, how often has the child of God, melted in adoring wonder at the goodness of God, in using means to bring him back, instead of sending him to hell, as he deserved! What consideration is calculated to bring him lower in the dust, than the thought that notwithstanding all God had done for him, and the gracious help God was always ready to afford him, he should wander away again when his name was written in the Lamb's book of life!

And still later, he answers the question, “When are men justified?”:

I answer--Just as soon as they believe in Christ, with the faith which worketh by love. Sinner, you need not go home from this meeting under the wrath of Almighty God. You may be justified here, on the spot, now, if you will only believe in Christ. Your pardon is ready, made out and sealed with the broad seal of Heaven; and the blank will be filled up, and the gracious pardon delivered, as soon as, by one act of faith, you receive Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel.

UPDATE: August 23, 2016 (10:15 AM):

I have come across one more piece which confirms that Finney held to perseverance of the saints and to the necessity of prevenient grace. In his 1851 Systematic Theology (the sermon I quoted above, “Justification by faith”, was from 1837), he actually sounds like a full Calvinist, except when he says “God calls effectually, but not irresistibly, before the sinner yields.” (Calvinists, of course, hold to irresistible grace, the “I” in TULIP).

Under the title “Perseverance of the Saints Proved” Finney writes (bold mine):

I would remark, that I have felt greater hesitancy in forming and expressing my views upon this, than upon almost any other question in theology. I have read whatever I could find upon both sides of this question, and have uniformly found myself dissatisfied with the arguments on both sides. After very full and repeated discussions, I feel better able to make up and express an opinion upon the subject than formerly. I have at some periods of my ministry been nearly on the point of coming to the conclusion that the doctrine is not true. But I could never find myself able to give a satisfactory reason for the rejection of the doctrine. Apparent facts that have come under my observation have sometimes led me seriously to doubt the soundness of the doctrine; but I cannot see, and the more I examine the more unable I find myself to see, how a denial of it can be reconciled with the scriptures.

    I shall give the substance of what I regard as the scripture proof of this doctrine, and beg the reader to make up his opinion for himself by a careful examination. Perhaps what has been satisfactory to my mind may not be so to the minds of others. Let no one believe this, or any other doctrine upon my authority, but "prove all things and hold fast that which is good."


  But the following considerations, taken together, seem to me to establish the truth of the doctrine in question beyond reasonable doubt.

    (1.) God has from eternity resolved upon the salvation of all the elect. This we have seen. No one of this number will ever be lost. These are given to Christ from eternity as a seed to serve him. The conversion, perseverance, and final salvation of the elect, we have seen to be secured. Their conversion, perseverance, and salvation, are secured by means of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, prevailing through the gospel, so to influence their free-will as to bring about this result. The instructions, promises, threatenings, warnings, expostulations of the Bible, with all the influences with which they are surrounded, are the instrumentalities by means of which the Holy Spirit converts, sanctifies, and saves them. At every step, as Fletcher acknowledges, "grace is beforehand with free-will." God first comes to, and moves upon, the sinner; but the sinner does not come to and move, or attempt to move God. God first draws, and the sinner yields. God calls, and the sinner answers. The sinner would never approach God, did not God draw him.

    Again: God calls effectually, but not irresistibly, before the sinner yields. He does not yield and answer to a slight call. Some indeed wait to be drawn harder, and to be called louder and longer than others; but no one, in fact, comes to God until effectually persuaded to do so; that is, until he is effectually hunted from his refuges of lies, and drawn with so great and powerful a drawing, as not to force, but to overcome, his reluctance or voluntary selfishness, and as to induce him to turn to God and to believe in Christ. That the sinner is wholly disinclined to obey, up to the very moment in which he is persuaded and induced to yield, there can be no doubt. His turning, as we have seen, is an act of his own, but he is induced to turn by the drawings of the Holy Spirit.

    Every person who was ever truly converted knows, that his conversion is not to be ascribed to himself, in any other sense, than that he finally consented, being drawn and persuaded by the Holy Spirit. The glory belongs to God, for the sinner only yielded after, perhaps, protracted resistance, and never until after he was so convinced as to have no further excuse or apology for sin, nor until the Spirit, by means of truth, and argument, and persuasion, fairly overcame him, and constrained, not forced him to submit. This is a brief statement of the facts connected with the conversion of every soul that was ever converted to God. This is true of the conversion of all the elect of God; and if others besides the elect are ever converted, this is a true account of their conversion.

    Again: the same is true of their perseverance in holiness, in every instance, and in every act. The saints persevere, not by virtue of a constitutional change, but alone by virtue, or as a result of the abiding and indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit. "Free grace is always beforehand with free-will;" that is, the will never obeys, in any instance, nor for one moment, except as it is persuaded to do so as really as at the first. The work begun by the Holy Spirit is not carried on, except as the same Spirit continues to work in the saints to will and to do of his good pleasure. Saints do not begin in the Spirit, and then become perfect through or by the flesh. There is no holy exercise that is not as really to be ascribed to the grace and to the influence of the Holy Spirit, as is conversion itself.

    The saints convert not themselves, in the sense that they turn or yield when drawn, until persuaded by the Holy Spirit. God converts them in the sense, that he effectually draws or persuades them. They turn themselves, in the sense that their turning is their own act. God turns them, in the sense that he induces or produces their turning. The same is true of their whole course of obedience in this life. The saints keep themselves, in the sense, that all obedience is their own; all their piety consists in their own voluntary obedience; but God keeps them, in the sense, that in every instance, and at every moment of obedience, he persuades, and enlightens, and draws them, insomuch, that he secures their voluntary obedience; that is, he draws and they follow. He persuades, and they yield to his persuasions. He works in them to will and to do, and they will and do. God always anticipates all their holy exercises, and persuades the saints to put them forth. This is so abundantly taught in the Bible, that to quote scripture to prove it would but waste your time. The saints are not only said to be converted, but also sanctified, and kept by the power of God.

    No saint then keeps himself, except in so far as he is kept by the grace, and Spirit, and power of God. There is therefore no hope for any saint, and no reason to calculate upon the salvation of any one, unless God prevails to keep him from falling away and perishing. All who ever are saved, or ever will be, are saved by and through free grace, prevailing over free will, that is, by free grace securing the voluntary concurrence of free will. This God does, and is sure to do, with all the elect. It was upon condition of the foreseen fact, that God could by the wisest administration of his government, secure this result, that they were elected to eternal salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. Now observe how the elect are saved. All the threatenings, warnings, and teachings of the Bible are addressed to them, as to all others. If there are any saints, at any time, who are not of the elect, the Bible nowhere notices any such persons, or speaks of them, as any less or more secure than the elect.

Later still, consistant with 5-point Calvinism and contrary to Arminianism, Finney writes, "none but the elect are converted [...] and of course they were elected to salvation from eternity." And later, taking a Calvinist interpretation of John 6:

Here it appears that no one can come to Christ except he be drawn of the Father. Every one who is drawn by the Father with an effectual drawing, or every one who hears and learns of the Father comes to Christ, and no other. The Father draws none to Christ, but those whom he has given to Christ; for these, and these only, are the children of God. Isa. liv. 13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." From these passages it appears that none come to Christ but those who are drawn by the Father, and that none are drawn by the Father but those whom he has given to his Son, or the elect; and that of those who are thus drawn to Christ, it is the Father's will that he should lose none, but that he should raise them up at the last day; that is, that he should save them. But observe, it is my particular object just now to establish the fact, that none come to Christ but those who are of the number that are given to Christ, and also that every one who is given to him shall come to him. These, and these only, are effectually called or drawn of the Father. All are called in the sense of being earnestly and honestly invited, and all the divine persuasion addressed to them that can wisely be addressed to them. But others, besides those given to the Son, are not, as a matter of fact, persuaded and effectually drawn, in a sense that secures the "concurrence of free will with free grace."

And on John 10, “Here it is plainly implied, that all those were sheep who were given to him by the Father, and that all such would surely hear and know his voice and follow him, but those that were not of his sheep, or were not given him by the Father, would not believe. [...] those and those only come to Christ who are given to him of the Father, or are of the elect”, and on Romans 8:28, “All that love God, do so because they have been effectually called, according to the purpose or election of God. This passage seems to settle the question, especially when viewed in its connexion, that all who ever love God are of the elect, and that they are prevailed upon to love God in conformity with their election."

What do you think?  Have I misunderstood Finney on these points?

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