The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To the Editor of The British Standard
3 March 1859
[Published in The British Standard (London), 11 March 1859, p. 77.]
The correspondence which follows appeared in the columns of The British Standard of 11 March 1859, p. 77, accompanied by an editorial comment by John Campbell in another column (on p. 76) as follows:
PROFESSOR FINNEY AND DR. TREGELLES.
On receiving the letter of our learned friend Dr. TREGELLES, by which we were not a little startled, since the extracts it presents from the work of Mr. FINNEY were wholly unlike the views which, nine years ago, we were accustomed to hear from the lips of our friend, we, therefore, at once transmitted to him the communication, that he might deal with it as he thought proper, and he lost no time in sending the reply. The Letters will be found in another column.
Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875) was a Biblical scholar of note and a member of the Plymouth Brethren (See DNB).
PROFESSOR FINNEY AND DR. TREGELLES.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH STANDARD.
SIR,--In the year 1839 "Finney's Lectures to Professing Christians" was put into my hands, and I was surprised to find that one who enjoyed a kind of popularity among certain religionists should have put forth many of the statements contained in the volume. So much did some of them strike me, that I then made the following extracts:--
"Sinners often plead their sinful nature as a justification. This excuse is a good one if it be true. If it is true, as they pretend, that God has given them a nature which is in itself sinful, and the necessary actings of their nature are sin, it is a good excuse for sin, and, in the face of heaven and earth, and at the day of judgment, will be a good plea in justification. God must annihilate the reason of all the rational universe before they will ever blame you for sin ; or, if He gave you a nature that is in itself sinful. How can your nature be sinful? What is sin? Sin is a transgression of the law. There is no other sin but this. Now, does the law say you must have such a nature as you have? Nothing like it." (P.326.)
"When the sinner talks about his sinful nature as a justification, he confounds these innocent appetites and susceptibilities with sin itself. By so doing he in fact charges God foolishly, and accuses Him of giving him a sinful nature, when, in fact, his nature, in all its elements, is essential to moral agency; and God has made it as well as it could be made, and perfectly adapted to the circumstances in which he lives in the world. The truth, is man's nature is all right, and is as well fitted to love and obey God as to hate and disobey Him." (P.327.)
"Do you inquire what influence Adam's sin has, then, in producing the sin of his posterity? I answer, it has subjected them to aggravated temptation; but it has be no means rendered their nature itself sinful." (P.328.)
"If sinners are really unable to obey God, this is a good plea in justification." (P.328.)
"Gospel justification is not the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Under the Gospel sinners are not justified by having the obedience of Jesus Christ set down to their account, as if He had obeyed the law for them or in their stead. It is not an uncommon mistake to suppose that, when sinners are justified under the Gospel, they are accounted righteous in the eye of the law by having the obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed to them. . . . This idea is absurd and impossible, for this reason,--that Jesus Christ was found to obey the law for Himself, and could no more perform works of supererogation than anybody else. . . But, if His obedience to the law is set down to our account, why are we called on to repent and obey the law ourselves?" (Pp. 332, 333.)
"Justification by faith does not mean that faith is accepted as a substitute for personal holiness, or that by an arbitrary constitution faith is imputed to us instead of personal obedience to the law." (P.333.)
"Faith is accounted for just what it is, and not for something else that it is not." (P.334.) "Justifying faith is holiness, so far as it goes, and produces holiness of heart and life, and is imputed to the believer as holiness, not instead of holiness." (P.334.)
"Nor does justification by faith imply that a sinner is justified by faith, without good works or personal holiness." (P.334.)
"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. . . . If they repent, believe, and become holy, their past sins shall be forgiven them for the sake of Christ." (P.336)
I make no comment on these extracts, all of which I took from the lecture on "Justification by Faith." Twenty years may have wrought much change; I only ask, therefore, if Mr. Finney has ceased to hold, and if he now distinctly condemns as dangerously false, the doctrines which he then taught, as to the denial of the corruption of our nature, and in mystifying all that relates to the believer's acceptance through faith in the one atonement of Christ our Saviour? I have never heard of any such disclaimer in Mr. Finney's part of his unsound doctrines; and often in the course of the last twenty years have I heard from America the term "Finneyism" applied to the denial of the Fall and of the real substitution of Christ.
No "revival" wrought by the Spirit of God can be based on doctrines which deny the true condition of fallen man, and which trench on the true substitutionary sacrifice of Christ "the Lord of Righteousness."
--I remain yours very truly,
S. P. TREGELLES.
Plymouth, Feb. 28, 1859.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH STANDARD.
Sir,--I thank you for sending me the proof of the letter of the Rev. Dr. Tregelles, containing extracts from the editor's reports of my lectures to professing Christians. Those lectures, as also the lectures on revivals of religion, were reported by the editor of the New York Evangelist on his own responsibility, and published without meeting my eye. When they passed into the book form I hastily read them over, and where he had expressed, in substance, what I intended, I made no corrections. I have never read either volume of those lectures since that time. Until since I have arrived in England this time, I have scarcely looked into either of those volumes since they were published. A friend gave me a copy of the lectures on revivals since I arrived, when, on reading a few pages, I was struck with the fact that my views on the question of excitement as connected with revivals had been misapprehended and misrepresented by the editor. Further reading would probably reveal further defects, which were overlooked by me in the hasty reading of them at the time of their passing into the book form. The lectures to professing Christians I have not so much as seen for years. I cannot say whether, in all respects, they express my views. But why quote from those reported lectures when my views on those points are so fully published in my volume on systematic theology, published in this city only a few years since? What does Dr. Tregelles mean? Does he hold that man's nature, meaning by this the substance of soul and body, is sinful in itself? If so, I ask what is sin? The Bible says it is the transgression of the law,--i.e. the moral law. If man's nature is in its substance a transgression of the law, whose sin is this? Who committed the sin of making a body and soul contrary to law, or the very substance of which is a transgression of the moral law? Will Dr. Tregelles tell us? Will he tell us how a substance, either natural or spiritual, can be a transgression of the moral law as it respects man's ability to obey the commands of God? Does Dr. Tregelles hold and teach that God commands men, on pain of eternal death, to perform natural impossibilities? In regard to the doctrine of justification by faith, I hold as follows:--God justifies the believer freely by His grace, upon condition that he repents of his sins and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance, faith, and return to obedience, are more a ground of justification,--i.e., that for which we are justified. Yet they are conditions of justification,--i.e., they are that without which we cannot be justified. Does Dr. Tregelles hold otherwise on this point? But I cannot in this brief note go into these questions. Will not this good man read what I have said on these points in my theology? Why dig up those old newspaper reports instead of taking my own writings? If Dr. Tregelles is a hyper-Calvinist he will object to what I have said in my theology; and let him do so. It is easy to object. It is easy to assume, as in this article he has done, that the author's views are heretical. If he wishes to know whether I have changed my views on any of these points I say, No, not in the substance of them. Every year gives me a clearer apprehension of the great truths of the Gospel, and would modify more or less the manner of stating them. I may hope that if my views are to be assailed as heretical my reviewers will not assume without am [sic] showing that they are so. Please give in your reasons, brethren, that we may be convinced, and not merely denounced. If Dr. Tregelles holds that the human soul and body is itself sin or sinful, and a transgression of God's law, surely a charge against the Author of that nature so grave as this should be sustained by proof. If he holds that God commands men on pain of eternal death to do what they can in nowise do, surely a charge of such tyranny as this should be sustained by proof. I think God will require the charge to be made out. If Dr. Tregelles holds that believers are justified upon other conditions than I have named, let him bring forward his showing. If he is right we will hear and believe him. It will then be in time to renounce our errors as dangerous.--Yours truly,
C. G. FINNEY.
Grosvenor-park, Camberwell-gate, London,
March 3, 1859.
This correspondence was reprinted in The Watchman (London), 23 March 1859 p. 94.
These extracts follow the original with one or two minor differences. The italic emphases have been added by Tregelles.
The original has, after this, the words: if God made you sin.
This word should be bound. See Dr. Tregelles's correction in his second letter in the Standard, 1 April 1859, p 101.
The original has after this: , or obey on our account,
This word should have been not. See Finney's corrections in his second letter in the Standard, of 25 March 1859, p. 93.
The word not should have been inserted after i.e.