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