Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finney’s False Idea of Sin

Anyone even remotely familiar with the works of Charles Finney will be aware that he taught that sin, each and every sin was a conscious act. He therefore repudiated any repentance for sin that was a general plea to God for forgiveness. In others words, he rejected the idea that one could ask God to forgive him of all his sins and be forgiven of them in one act of confession. He taught that one should list down every sin he has committed and repent of each one individually. His argument was: “You committed them one at a time; you should repent of them one at a time.” Thankfully, this sort of extreme legalism isn’t terribly widespread. But neither has it perished from the earth. When Keith Green was still alive, Last Days Ministries’ magazine featured an article on this very subject, - Finney’s own work, with slightly updated language.

The logic behind this goes like this: All sin is committed consciously and with the full acquiescence of man’s free-will. If this be true, many other false ideas present themselves. First of all, this is a clandestine denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Finney made no bones about his denial of Original Sin. He argued, rather moronically, that since God declared that the son shall not be punished for the sins of the father, then it would a grave miscarriage of justice for Him to impute Adam’s sin to all his progeny.

First things first. It simply is not true that all sin is committed consciously and with the acquiescence of the will. Not only is this idea extra-biblical but it is also contrary to Scripture. Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, and 27 all speak of sins committed in ignorance. Peter asserts that the most vile sin humanity ever did, i.e., putting Christ to death, was done in ignorance. This neither minimizes the gravity of it nor the culpability for it.

Wilhelmus à Brakal writes, “It is one thing to do something against one’s will and another to sin without the conscious acquiescence of the will; and indeed, the first sin was committed with the full acquiescence of the human nature.” (1)

Let’s face it: We have all done things against our so-called better judgment. Moreover, it is easy to imagine a circumstance in which someone violates their conscience and sins through what they perceive to be coercion. Many people have lied, who would not have done so, except that they felt forced into it. As I stated abovr, this neither minimizes the guilt, nor removes the responsibility for the sin. It simply proves that Finney was a lousy theologian. He knew neither the Scriptures nor human character.

The problem with an inadequate concept of Original Sin is that one cannot form a proper concept of imputed righteousness, either. If we don’t get it that we have all actually sinned in Adam’s first sin because we are united to him covenantally, then we will never understand the imputed righteousness of Christ that comes from covenantal union with Him. It’s that simple. I suspect that whenever we find a false or inadequate view of imputed righteousness, we will find a faulty view of Original Sin as its fountainhead.

1. The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 1, Ch. 14


  1. In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.

  2. Thanks, Nick for your response. It is well thought out, I can tell. I almost feel urged to write an entire post or perhaps a series of posts dealing with the points you bring up.

    First though, let me thank you for confirming something I hoped my readers would pick up on, and that is this: Finney is no friend of the Reformation. He was a Pelagian of the first order, and a heretic, if the Canons of the Council of Orange are anything to go by. I was dealing with Finney’s false view of sin and you responded to the notion of Imputed Righteousness. The two do indeed go together. A defective view of Original Sin and man’s utter depravity leads to a rejection of the Surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ. Finney’s theology is inconsistent with Imputed Righteousness, and therefore more closely aligned with Roman Catholic doctrine than Reformed theology. Finney made no bones about his rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin.

    Your arguments however presuppose thing Scripture flatly denies: (A) Faith is meritorious. Paul tells us that faith is a gift from God. (cf. Phil. 1:29). Indeed Paul actually calls it της πιστεως της ενεργειας του θεου – the faith produced in you by God! Moreover, your line of argument presupposes that there is some remnant of good in the unregenerate. This is flatly false. (cf. Rom. 3:10-18; Gen. 6:5)

    Furthermore the notion of imputation runs all through the Scriptures. The whole Old Testament sacrificial system was based on this concept. How else could the sacrificial lambs and goats be meaningful? The priest laid his hand on the scapegoat’s head and reckoned the nation’s sin unto it. Now if reckoning means the simple acknowledgment of something which is actually there, then we are forced to assume that the goat was indeed guilty of all of Israel’s sins for the whole year. Paul claims in 2 Cor. 5:21 is that God imputed our sin to Christ as our Substitute on the cross. He died the death we should have died for sin. (He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21)

    In Romans 4, Paul argues that Abraham had nothing to boast of. Wages are earned; they are not a gift. Genesis 15:6 makes no mention of works. Certainly faith is an act, but it is not a “work of merit.” The righteousness of God was “counted” to Abraham (vv 3, 9), not earned by him. Verse 8 actually argues in direct opposition to what you seem to want to prove by the definitions of logizomai.

  3. Hi,

    Sorry for the delay.

    You said my argument "presupposes" certain things, but I'd say my argument is simply interpreting the text. If the text says faith is counted as righteousness, according to the definition of logizomai, faith must truly have been a righteous act. That's not a presupposition since I'm not introducing new details.

    As for the issue of "meritorious," I'm not sure why that's bad or in any way contrary to being a gift from God. It can indeed be all those as Canon 18 of the Council of Orange teaches.

    You said: "the notion of imputation runs all through the Scriptures"

    While the term "logizomai" is used throughout Scripture (and it's equivalent Hebrew term Chashab), the "notion of imputation" isn't really a Biblical model. In other words, the terms for "reckon/impute/credit" are not employed on a regular basis for any given subject.

    You said: "The whole Old Testament sacrificial system was based on this concept."

    I actually don't see the terms for imputation ever employed in reference to the sacrifices. The terms for "impute" in the OT and NT were used about 200 times total, but never used in sacrificial passages. So, if anything, I'd say that's a presumption that should be carefully weighed and possibly reconsidered.

    You asked: "How else could the sacrificial lambs and goats be meaningful?"

    I'm not sure what your point is here. There were various sacrifices for different reasons, including sacrifices that had nothing to do with sin or atoning for sin. For example, the Fellowship/Peace offering of Lev 3:1-5 had nothing to do with sin or atoning for sin, yet it had priests put hands on the head of the lamb and kill the lamb - this makes no sense if one is assuming sin is being imputed here to the animal.

    You said: "The priest laid his hand on the scapegoat’s head and reckoned the nation’s sin unto it."

    The term "reckon" doesn't actually appear here, but more notable is the fact the scapegoat wasn't killed, it was set free. The scapegoat wasn't a sacrifice, nor could it be.

  4. Part 2 of 2:

    You said: "Paul claims in 2 Cor. 5:21 is that God imputed our sin to Christ as our Substitute on the cross. He died the death we should have died for sin."

    You have to be careful here, the term logizomai does *not* appear here. You can't say "God imputed our sin to Christ" if that's not what the text here or anywhere else says. Paul was well aware of the term logizomai, but never used it in that manner. The text says Christ was "made sin," but given that sin isn't a literal "thing" means this must be a figurative expression. It turns out that this is likely a Hebrew idiom for "sin offering" (since in Hebrew the terms "sin" and "sin offering" are the same word).

    You said: "In Romans 4, Paul argues that Abraham had nothing to boast of. Wages are earned; they are not a gift. Genesis 15:6 makes no mention of works. Certainly faith is an act, but it is not a “work of merit.” "

    It is agreed that the act of faith isn't a "work", so that shouldn't be an issue.

    You said: "The righteousness of God was “counted” to Abraham (vv 3, 9), not earned by him."

    You might have mistyped, but the phrase "righteousness of God" never appears in Romans 4. The text speaks simply of "righteousness". I'm not sure why you said "earned by him" or how you can put thin contrast to "counted" since I don't believe such opposition necessarily exists.

    You said: "Verse 8 actually argues in direct opposition to what you seem to want to prove by the definitions of logizomai."

    How so? David is speaking of when he repented and was forgiven of sin, so when the text says David won't be "counted" as a sinner, that means his sin is truly forgiven and thus God won't count him as a sinner any longer.

  5. Nick, sorry for the delay. My blog doesn't take up the time it used to.

    The difference between your view of this subject and mine is precisely the difference between Rome and the Reformation. As a Christian of the Reformation I see imputation looming large in Scripture. I trust in Jesus, who is the Lord my righteousness (Jer. 23:6). My sin was imputed to Him so that His righteousness could be imputed to me (2 Cor. 5:21). All my own righteousness is filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), therefore it is in the Lord that I have righteousness (Isa. 45:24).

    Ever since the Reformation, Catholic theologians have considered Imputation as legal fiction. Frankly, as a Christian of the Reformation, I find this to be Pelagian. It minimizes the effects of sin, and presupposes some good in unregenerate man, a notion I find contratart to the whole tenor of Scripture.

    I have read the arguments you presented, as well as those of the Catholic thinker since the Reformation who argue the same way, and find the arguments unconvincing. I would never place any confidence in my flesh because in it dwells no good thing. Reformed theologians, far abler than me have, in my estimation, successfully tackled these objections to Imputation ever since the 16th century. In the words of Martin Luther, "Unless therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, I can and will not retract."


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